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Freed by DNA, Ky. Man Eyes Fresh Start

Crime: William Gregory, jailed seven years for rapes, was cleared by evidence. Money woes and starting over at 54 haven't robbed him of finding happiness.

June 23, 2002|SHARON L. CRENSON | ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

The laughter that bubbles from William Gregory is unexpected, the last thing anticipated from a man talking about life after prison.

Gregory served seven years of a 70-year sentence before DNA evidence ruled him out as the rapist in two Kentucky attacks. Now middle-age, he is one of the oldest men starting over after being wrongfully imprisoned and freed by science.

"Financially, it destroyed my life," Gregory says. "At 54 years old, approaching 60, you don't have anything to fall back on. Companies are skeptical about hiring someone who is 54 years old."

And emotionally, anxiety overwhelms him if the bedroom door at his home in Louisville isn't locked at night.

But then ask Gregory about his 13-year-old son, who lives with Gregory's ex-wife in Ohio, or about his fiancee, Vicki Kidwell, and Gregory just can't contain his laughter.

He hasn't seen his son since he was a baby, but he pays child support and fixed up a room for the boy in the new house that church friends helped pay for.

"Every time I speak of him, I just laugh. He's a beautiful boy," Gregory said.

He and Kidwell are also rearing her two teenagers.

"What we're striving for [is] just to be happy," Kidwell says. "I just want to make it as easy on him as I can, and so do the kids."

They are obviously grateful for one another despite the struggles of stepparenting and rebuilding Gregory's credit history. A car loan recently commanded 26% interest, and their mortgage runs $1,000 a month. Those are steep payments on her bank teller's salary and the $7 an hour Gregory earns clerking at Walgreens.

He has received no compensation from the state, but he's suing Louisville for $35 million.

Kidwell and Gregory met when she was just 19 and were briefly engaged. That was 15 years ago. They lost track of one another, and Gregory went to prison.

Kidwell found him again after local news reports of his release.

"I broke down and cried. I was like, in disbelief, because William was never the kind of man to physically hurt a woman," she said.

The two have been together again since Kidwell found the courage to pick up the phone and call.

Gregory, free since 2000, still sees a psychologist to help him quell prison demons. And he has told his bosses he can't stay at Walgreens unless they pay him more or put him into management training. Still, he works hard.

"I'm still showing them that I am of that caliber," he said. "I'm letting them see what they are going to lose if they don't do something."

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