After spending more than a decade in prison for a murder they didn't commit, Christopher Scott and Claude Simmons can now officially say they are exonerated.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Scott, 39, and Simmons, 54, were innocent in the death of Alfonso Aguilar in 1997. Both men spent 12 years in prison before a Dallas County judge proclaimed they were innocent and released them in October.
"I feel great," Simmons said. "It's a weight off my shoulders. I wasn't sure if I would have to go back (to prison) or not."
In addition to the ruling, both Scott and Simmons will receive a lump sum of about $960,000 and about $80,000 a year for life -- before taxes.
"It's good. It'll help us live a little better," Scott said. "It doesn't make up for the years we spent in prison, but every little bit helps."
Simmons' attorney, John Stickles, along with college student Natalie Ellis of the University of Texas-Arlington Innocence Network helped free the men in Dallas County's first exonerations that did not involve DNA.
Dallas County leads the country in DNA exonerations.
"There's been a lot of talk about attorneys making money off of exonerations," said Michelle Moore, Scott's attorney. "John Stickles and I are doing this pro bono."
Since their release, Scott and Simmons have reuinited with their sons, whose upbringings they largely missed out on. They've learned to use cell phones, DVD players and other gadgets that took off while they were behind bars. And both men say they want to help free other prisoners who might be wrongfully imprisoned.
So what will Scott do with his first payment?
"Take care of my mom," he said, "and a family vacation. We haven't been together for a long time."
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