By: Patrick M. O’Connell, Chicago Tribune: January 15th, 2015
Tyrone Hood paused just outside the prison entrance to look at the horizon, the treetops and the bridge spanning the nearby Mississippi River. He marveled at the Technicolor world around him, a jarring contrast to the grays and whites that had been his reality the past 22 years.
“I didn’t see any bars, no walls, no barbed wires, no officers,” Hood said. “I said, ‘OK, I can go, I can walk now.'”
Hood was released Wednesday from the Menard Correctional Center in southern Illinois after his 50-year sentence for murder was commuted Monday to time served in the wave of 43 clemency petitions granted by Pat Quinn in one of his final acts as governor.
“I feel like I can breathe,” he said. “Being in that prison, it felt like the life was being choked out of me day by day. … It’s undescribable words. But it is incredible.”
In his first few minutes outside, Hood said he relished walking wherever he wanted.
“This freedom reminds me of reality,” he said. “… I don’t have to eat the stuff they tell me to eat, I don’t have to wake up when they tell me or get in the cell when they tell me to. I don’t have to sleep on a 2-inch mattress. That’s good.”
Hood, 51, was in prison for the 1993 shooting death of Marshall Morgan Jr., an Illinois Institute of Technology basketball standout. He has long maintained his innocence and said Chicago police should have looked at the young man’s father in connection with the killing.
“I am not a killer,” Hood said in a phone interview about 30 minutes after leaving prison, where he was met by his legal team.
Quinn commuted Hood’s sentence but did not issue him a pardon, so Hood has been placed on parole for three years. Processing paperwork delayed Hood’s release until Wednesday.
As part of his parole, Hood will be fitted with an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet, and he must regularly visit and speak by phone with a parole officer. He also will be subject to random drug testing, according to Tom Shaer, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Hood said one of his priorities is to find a job.
He has been behind bars, either in jail or prison, since he was 29 years old. He was headed to Chicago to stay with his niece and said he is hoping to reconnect with his two sons and a daughter.
His children were all under 10 when he was convicted.
“I did everything I could to let them know I still loved them,” he said.
Hood left prison with five boxes of personal belongings, mostly legal papers. Since learning of his release, he got handshakes and hugs of congratulations from fellow inmates and guards, which moved him to tears. Hood said he was going to try to be patient during his transition back into society.
“I still feel a little scared and a little nervous,” he said. “I’m leaving the lifestyle in the penitentiary I’m used to.”
He was trying to adjust to new technology, such as using an iPhone for the first time.
“I’m nervous I’m going to cut you off by mistake,” he said during the interview.
Hood also reveled in a world bursting with color as a man who had grown accustomed to the gray bars, white walls and blue uniforms of prison.
“I haven’t seen the color red — only on TV,” he said.
Hood has said authorities should investigate Marshall Morgan Sr., father of the victim Hood was convicted of killing, for the murder. Morgan was convicted of manslaughter in the 1977 shooting death of a friend who owed him money. He was questioned in the death of his son in large part because, in the months before his son died, he was struggling financially and took out a life insurance policy on his son.
Morgan was a suspect two years later in the slaying of his fiancee, whose life he also insured, according to police and court records. Authorities never charged him in the deaths of his son or fiancee.
But he was charged and convicted in the 2001 shooting death of his girlfriend and is serving a 75-year sentence at Stateville Correctional Center.
After inquiries from the Tribune in 2012, Cook County prosecutors announced that Hood’s case would be among the first re-examined by the office’s new Conviction Integrity Unit. The unit has set aside other convictions but had not done so with Hood, who was set to be paroled in 2030.
“It’s a huge victory from the sense that Tyrone will have his freedom back,” Gayle Horn, Hood’s lead attorney, said Monday. “But we still want to clear his name because he is innocent.”
Also released Wednesday on orders from Quinn were Anthony Dansberry, convicted in the 1991 murder of an elderly Oak Park woman, and Howard Morgan, convicted of shooting at four Chicago police officers in 2005.
Hood said he doesn’t hold a grudge against prosecutors or witnesses or the legal system that put him behind bars, saying he has learned to let it go and move forward with his life.
“It’s important enough to feel I will be getting my life back,” he said. “That I can do things like a normal person.”