Willie Grimes traded prison clothes for slacks and a polo shirt Monday morning, and for the first time in nearly 25 years, breathed the air of freedom.
“It feels good,” he said.
Grimes was paroled Monday from a minimum security prison camp in Gaston County more than two decades after he says he was wrongly convicted of raping an elderly woman and six weeks after the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission agreed to send his case to a special three-judge panel that could exonerate him.
“It makes me feel a whole lot better by being out and knowing I don’t have to go back to the camp -- just being a free man,” Grimes said.
But because he's still a convicted rapist in the eyes of the law, Grimes did have to register as a sex offender at the Gaston County Jail. His attorney said that's frustrating.
“We're not going to stop, and it's not going to slow us down in proving his complete innocence,” attorney Chris Mumma said.
On Monday afternoon, Grimes showed Eyewitness News around the house he will now live in, courtesy of a church friend who's also given him a job.
“It feels real good because we don’t have soft chairs and no sofas or nothing in prison,” Grimes said.
But as good as the sofa and house and job and even freedom feel now, Grimes said he won't rest until he can convince the state he is innocent.
“Clear my name is the most important thing in my life because that's the only thing I got is my name,” Grimes said.