Reminded of her pledge that Monroe would spend his life behind bars, O'Connor said, "I guess I did say that to Mrs. Rubin, and I apologize that he got out."

Rubin said she's grateful for the work of Baltimore prosecutors who have handled the case since the Court of Appeals ruling.

But to her, the judges put the victims last. Rubin said her husband of 26 years grew up poor and worked for all he had. He was a veteran, a father of two, and a good and kind man known to neighborhood children as "Mr. Ben."

After his death, Rubin said, she lost the store. She had to find a new way to support herself and the couple's children, who were students at the University of Maryland when their father was murdered.

"My son and my daughter didn't go to their graduation ceremonies. They couldn't go without their father," Rubin said. "If we had a wedding, if we had a birthday, if we had grandchildren — no matter what we had in our lives from that point forward on, it was always that terrible feeling that my husband was missing."

The couple, who met on a streetcar on their way home from school, had owned the store for about 10 years when Benjamin Rubin was killed.

Shirley Rubin moved to a Mount Washington apartment complex, where she has lived for the past 36 years. She supported herself with a clerical job at State of Israel Bonds, retiring in 1989.

Her white sofa, underneath a display of colorful cross-stitch artwork, anchors an immaculate living room. She still uses the same coffee table on which detectives spread out the images of the suspects in the robbery and murder. She recalls that she picked out the correct pictures in less than a minute.

She's always been proud of her role in helping put her husband's killer away, and feels the same drive to speak out today against Monroe's release.

"As painful as this is for me to do this, I have to do this for Ben," she said. "He can't fight for himself. Releasing these prisoners is a disgrace to the word justice. And it is an insult to Benjamin Rubin's memory. It offers no justice for me or my family."

Lawyers advocating for inmates like Monroe say they, too, had had a long wait for justice.

"The travesty is not that some old man who has rehabilitated might be let out on supervised probation," said Brian M. Saccenti, head of the appellate division at the Office of the Public Defender. "The tragedy seems to be that these people were locked up after these trials where these fundamental rules to protect the innocent were not enforced."

Others point out that the people eligible for retrial under the ruling are among the last prisoners who were subject to other legal practices that have since been deemed unfair. For instance, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1980s that prosecutors could not disqualify prospective jurors based on their race.

Still, advocates are pushing to offer robust opposition to the prisoners' release.

Russell Butler, executive director of the Maryland Crime Victims' Resource Center, worries that prosecutors lack the staff to track down victims or their families in decades-old cases. The state allocates $17 million a year for programs involving crime victims.

Butler said prosecutors are finding it difficult to retry those cases: Witnesses may have moved or died, and evidence may have been lost. The same is true of victims or their families, he said, but he contended that the state owes it to the victims to let them or their families know the cases may be retried or the inmates freed.

"We're just concerned that substantial efforts need to go into locating victims, or survivors of the victims that are no longer alive," he said. "They may need some additional resources to make sure that justice includes justice for the survivors or the victims."

On the June afternoon that Monroe was granted his release, a Baltimore judge heard the cases of six other men who would also be freed. One by one, each man stood before the court. Each time, an officer unshackled their hands so they could sign the agreements that would set them free.

Karen Wilson faced her father's killer that day.

Craig Fellows fatally stabbed Wilson's father at his restaurant when she was 13. For years, visions of knives and blood invaded her mind. She couldn't sleep alone with the lights turned off until well into adulthood, she told the court last month. Her mother died in poverty, having lost the family's breadwinner.