A man who served nearly three decades in prison for a crime he didn’t commit was released from prison Tuesday afternoon nearly a month after a judge vacated his confession.
Arthur Brown was in his mid-30s when he was accused and convicted of starting a fire that killed two people.
Working as a carpenter, Brown, who had no criminal record, was called to a Chicago video store on the city’s South Side to fix a lock. Hours later, the store was burned to the ground and two people who lived in an adjoining building were left dead.
Brown’s attorneys said he was choked and beaten by police until he confessed to the crime. Police at the time said his confession led them to a gas can that started the blaze, but it was later discovered a third person recovered the gas can hours before Brown’s statement was made, his attorneys alleged.
"There was no physical evidence, there was no forensic evidence, there was no eyewitness," said attorney Ron Safer. "There was nothing against Arthur except his coerced confession."
Last month, a Cook County judge vacated Brown’s confession, but the state ordered he remain in jail while the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office decided whether or not it would appeal the decision.
On Monday, the state’s attorney’s office said it would dismiss the notice of appeal.
“I knew this day would come and the truth would come out,” Brown told reporters shortly after his release. “I can take my first step to freedom.”
Family members felt the weight of his incarceration as well.
"I did 30 years with him," Brown's sister, Lizzie Lyler, said. "It was a very few months when I didn't try to send him something."
Brown walked free for the first time after his wrongful sentence Tuesday and said he planned to get "a good meal."
He kept his mind strong by reading and staying positive, he said, and never doubted his day would come.
"The only thing you can do is believe in yourself and keep marching forward--and that's what I did," he said.
He thanked his attorneys and said he is grateful State's Attorney Kim Foxx chose not to retry his case.
"I think that she's doing the right thing to look into a lot of these cases, because there's a lot of people that's incarcerated that need their cases investigated," he said. "I think the culture needs to change in the office and I think she's taking a good step forward in doing that."
He described setting foot outside the jail as being filled with emotion.
"I can feel the vibes of people and it's a good feeling, it's a good feeling," he said.
"It feels like a bird in the sky, to be free," he said. "Now I have to pick up my pieces of my life and put them together again."
He said he didn't feel bitter about being wrongly locked up because he was focusing on his family.
Now that family says Brown will celebrate all the things he’s missed.
"It's love, it's a lot of love," he said, turning and hugging his family.