Saturday, December 19, 2009

Peoria native helped free innocent Florida man

James Bain, center, walks down the Polk County Courthouse steps Thursday with Melissa Montle, left, and Seth Miller of the Innocence Project in Bartow, Fla. With the help of Peoria native Montle, Bain was released Thursday after spending 35 years in prison for a 1974 rape conviction when new DNA evidence exonerated him.

Peoria native says James Bain is a testament to human spirit.

Watching James Bain walk out of the Polk County courthouse in Bartow, Fla., a free man Thursday really got to Peoria native Melissa Montle.

"I normally can hold back my tears, but I couldn't yesterday with him," the attorney with the Innocence Project said Friday. "He is such a sweet, kind, loving human being."

Montle, 31, was part of the team of lawyers that helped exonerate Bain, who was behind bars for 35 years for a crime he did not commit.

"I think (Bain's case) teaches us all something about the power of the human spirit and forgiveness, and I think we could all be a little more like him," Montle said.

Montle graduated from Notre Dame High School in 1996 and Bradley University in 2000. After receiving her law degree from Tulane University and working five years as an attorney, she moved to Tallahassee, Fla., in July 2008 with her husband, John McCarroll, to accept a position with the Innocence Project.

"I feel so lucky and so blessed to be here, and to get to know these men," Montle said, adding she has not yet had a case with a female client. "All of my clients are amazing human beings with strength that I can't imagine having."

When Innocence Project heard about Bain's case, Montle said IP thought, "Holy mackerel! This guy needs a lawyer."

Bain was convicted of kidnapping and raping a 9-year-old boy in Lake Wales, Fla., in 1974, before DNA testing was developed. Since 2001, Bain had handwritten five pro se motions for DNA testing, and they had all been turned down until 2006, when the ruling on the fifth petition was reversed by a higher court. That's when the Innocence Project got involved.

When Bain finally was granted DNA testing on Oct. 16, 2009, the Innocence Project's lab ran the tests and "unequivocally excluded" Bain's DNA from the semen found on the victim's underwear, Montle said.

According to the Innocence Project, Bain was behind bars longer than any of the other 246 inmates exonerated by DNA nationwide.

"She is so compassionate," Bonnie White of Peoria said about her granddaughter.

Melissa's parents, Lynn and Tony Montle, live in the Lake Camelot subdivision in Mapleton.

Melissa Montle said besides the Bain case, she has about a dozen other cases that are in different stages of progress.

"I have a lot more Jamie Bains, I hope," she said.


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