KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) - Thomas Cress left prison this week for the first time in decades, after having his life sentenced commuted by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm in late December.
Cress has repeatedly declared his innocence in the 1983 rape and strangulation of teenager Patricia Rosansky, near Battle Creek. He was convicted of her first-degree murder in 1985. Rosansky's body was found in a wooded area in Calhoun County's Bedford Township.
Now, Cress is out of jail -- but not quite free yet, he told 24 Hour News 8 on Wednesday.
"Sometimes, I give up," Cress said. "And sometimes, I say, I couldn't go any farther with it. And just like, to get it over with, and just curl up in a ball and die somewhere."
But Cress prays. His family and his innocence are what he said kept him alive, even behind bars. This week, he walked out of prison and into Kalamazoo's psychiatric hospital.
"This place here is heaven compared to where I was at," Cress said.
He's hospitalized as part of his parole, and staff members are helping him acclimate to life outside of prison.
"It's kind of like, dead in there," Cress said. "Everybody's walking dead. You spend a lot of time thinking about your past, and the more you think, the more angry you get, and then you just push it all off to the side after a while."
Despite no physical evidence against Cress and the subsequent confession in 1997 of then-Arkansas inmate Michael Ronning, the Michigan Supreme Court in 2003 refused to grant Cress new trial. The state Parole and Commutation Board held an hours-long public hearing in March 2009 and subsequently recommended that the governor commute Cress' sentence to time served.
"I'm innocent," Cress said. "I didn't really do the crime, so, I stayed there all along. And I'll say it until the day I die, that I didn't do the crime. And that's the way it is -- I didn't."
And now, he's one step closer to his final goal: complete freedom.
"The whole thing is, freedom's right there," Cress said. "And I know I got a chance at it now, and that's the whole thing."
Cress' sentence is commuted, but that doesn't mean his conviction was overturned. His lawyer said he will be on parole for four years.
Attorneys will keep working on the case, and hope to get his record expunged, eventually. Cress has grandchildren he has never met, and children he didn't get to see grow up.
A driver escaped safely after its vehicle crashed into the Grand River in Ottawa County Friday morning.
We get a brief break from the "lake-effect machine" Friday.
A few flurries occurred Thursday night. Lows held in the teens and the wind relaxed to the 5 to 10 mph range, with 20s at the Lake Michigan.