A Chiicago man wrongfully convicted in a 1988 murder who spent 35 years behind bars was released Tuesday after a judge dismissed all charges, the Associated Press reports. Brian Beals, 57, embraced his sister and niece as he stood outside Robinson Correctional Center in Crawford County. “Relief, happiness, it was just amazing to walk out of there,” he said. “I’m ready to begin life again.” Beals was convicted in the murder of 6-year-old Demetrius Campbell. At the time, Beals, a 22-year-old student at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, was home in Chicago during Thanksgiving break. He was approached by a drug dealer and they argued. Attorneys say Beals got in his car and drove off. Bullets fired in Beals’ direction hit two bystanders, the boy, and his mother, Valerie Campbell.
Despite three witnesses who described a different offender, Beals was convicted, mostly on Campbell’s testimony. She said she saw Beals in the argument and believed he fired the shots. Beals maintained his innocence. Attorneys who took on Beals’ case, including the Illinois Innocent Project, found five new witnesses to corroborate that Beals was the intended target and was not the shooter. They also presented photographic enhancement showing Beals’ car had bullet holes in the rear bumper. Beals has served the second-longest term of wrongful incarceration in Illinois history, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Beals left prison with two cardboard boxes full of his belongings Tuesday to screams of joy and tears of excitement. He used his time behind bars to mentor young people and write plays, including one entitled “Jabril’s Chains” about a former inmate.