More than five years ago, Kennedy Brewer was sitting on Mississippi's death row, awaiting execution for a crime he didn't commit.
Freed in 2008, seven years after DNA testing cleared him, Brewer is planning for his wedding in April.
"Everything is going all right," Brewer said in a recent telephone interview from his home in Brooksville.
Brewer also is expecting to receive money from the state for his wrongful conviction. He is one of four people Mississippi has agreed to pay $500,000 for being wrongly convicted. The compensation law went into effect July 1.
A stipulation for accepting the money is that the wrongly convicted person can't sue the state.
Brewer said he filed his claim in Circuit Court in September but has yet to receive any money. The money comes from the budget of the state attorney general's office.
Jan Schaefer, public information officer for the state attorney general's office, said seven people, including Brewer, have filed claims. Four claims have been approved, and the remaining ones are being opposed, Schaefer said.
Jackson lawyer Rob McDuff, who assisted the Innocence Project in winning freedom for some of those wrongly convicted, said he expects those who have been approved to begin receiving their annual payments next year.
McDuff said it can be difficult for those who spent so many years incarcerated to readjust to society. But McDuff said the four who have met requirements for compensation are doing reasonably well.
McDuff said some of the former inmates have been able to get jobs. He said the money received will help them move forward.
"It certainly can't compensate for the years in prison for something they didn't do, but it can help them get their feet on the ground and move on after having such a horrible experience," McDuff said.
McDuff says it can be difficult for the ex-prisoners to find work after having been exonerated because employers might still have concerns about hiring a former inmate."We often look with suspicion on people coming out of prison, and sometimes the fact of exoneration doesn't completely erase that suspicion. Hopefully employers will realize these are good men who are good people and could be good workers," McDuff said.
Brewer's exoneration, the first in Mississippi through DNA testing, helped prompt the new law, which already existed in more than two dozen other states. He spent 15 years behind bars in connection with the 1992 rape and murder of his former girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter. DNA testing has linked the crime to another man.
Asked about spending all that time in prison, Brewer said, "It's over. I don't even think about it."
The other three former inmates whose claims the attorney general office agrees meet the statutory requirements for compensation are Levon Brooks, also of Noxubee County, Arthur Johnson and Cedric Willis. As in Brewer's case, DNA tests cleared all three.
Brooks served 18 years after he was convicted in the rape and murder of a 3-year-old girl. A judge released him on bond the same day in February 2008 when he dismissed Brewer's capital murder charge.
In 1993, Johnson was convicted in the rape of a Sunflower County woman at gunpoint. He was convicted and sentenced to 55 years in prison. He served 16 years before being exonerated in 2008.
Willis was 23 and facing murder and robbery charges in September 1997 when he looked into the eyes of Jackson resident Gloria White and said: "Ma'am, I did not cause harm to your husband nor your family members. I swear to God this is the whole truth and nothing but the truth."
Hinds County jury members, who heard Willis' plea, didn't believe him. Willis was found guilty in the shooting of Carl White Jr., a noncommissioned officer in the Mississippi National Guard, and sentenced to life plus 99 years in prison.
In March 2006, with the help of the New Orleans Innocence Project, DNA evidence proved Willis did not commit the crime. He had served 12 years.
Willis worked for Galloway United Methodist Church in downtown Jackson after being freed. He no longer works there.
Brewer said he has been working the past 16 months at Peco Foods processing plant in Brooksville.Brewer said he met his future wife after leaving prison - through a program both were attending.
This Christmas, Brewer said he's simply looking forward to spending time with family. He has two children, an 18-year-old daughter and 19-year-old son, and a grandson.
A couple of other men haven't been as fortunate on the compensation end:
In 1997, Anderson was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison in a Hinds County case involving the shooting of a woman in her Jackson home. But he remained free on an appeal bond before he began serving the sentence in 1999. He served about six years before he was finally released.
The U.S. District Court in Jackson threw out his conviction and ordered a retrial.
Hymes was convicted in 1991 in Washington County of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. His conviction was later overturned.
Hobbs was convicted of grand larceny in 2004 in Washington County and sentenced to 10 years, with seven suspended. But in 2006, the Mississippi Court of Appeals threw out Hobbs' conviction, citing insufficient evidence to convict Hobbs.'