Jerry Lee Evans joined a brotherhood of sorts Wednesday when he walked out of a courtroom after more than 22 years behind bars for a rape that DNA proves he did not commit.
Evans, 47, was the 20th man cleared by DNA evidence in Dallas County, which has had more exonerations than any other county in the nation since 2001 when the state began allowing post-conviction genetic testing.
His fellow exonerees stood by at a hearing to offer him support as he adjusts to the free world. One by one, Evans' fellow exonerees greeted him in the courtroom like a lost friend.
"Welcome home, brother," exclaimed Billy Smith, who was cleared in 2006, with a huge grin and a bear hug.
"It's very good to see you," said Thomas McGowan, who was released last year, as he shook Evans' hand.
Then, James Giles, who was cleared in 2007, shook his hand and offered him $100 as he does every new exoneree. Evans laughed and told him, "I've heard about you."
Then James Woodard, who was exonerated last year, told Evans: "We're a small group, but anything we can help you with, just call."
The group gets together about twice a month, mainly to "hang out and talk" and offer each other support.
Evans' three cousins are eager to help, too. He'll spend time living with each of them until he finds a job and can afford his own place, said cousin Dwayne Jackson. They'll also teach him how to use a cellphone and a computer.
Although Jackson wrote Evans letters while Evans was in prison, they haven't seen each other in more than two decades.
"It's lovely, just lovely," Jackson said about his cousin's exoneration.
Evans' mother lives in Colorado, and his father died while he was in prison.
Evans was wrongly convicted in the 1986 rape of an 18-year-old Southern Methodist University freshman who was abducted on her way to go dancing in Deep Ellum. Prosecutors now say that police told her to pick Evans out of a lineup.
Evans said Wednesday that he never thought he would be convicted because he was innocent.
Evans' appearance was very similar to that of the attacker. At the time, he even had a speech impediment like the rapist.
Evans, wearing a new gray shirt and charcoal pants, did not speak with an impediment Wednesday, although his voice was very soft.
"My whole thing was that when the young lady would see me in court, she'd say it wasn't me," he said. "I was shocked."
Still, Evans holds no ill will against anyone. He's just happy to be free, he said.
"I'm not angry at all," he said.
The man who prosecuted Evans, L. Dee Shipman, is now a judge in Denton County. He also prosecuted Smith, who was wrongly convicted of rape. He has not returned phone calls inquiring about either case.