When Ian Manuel was 13, he shot a young mother in the face in downtown Tampa, Florida, and was sentenced to life in prison. On Monday, Manuel was released from prison, and his victim, Debbie Baigrie, joined him for his first meal as a free man in 26 years.
Despite having been shot by Manuel, Baigrie said it was clear that the justice system did not do right by her attacker. “The judge wanted to make an example of him,” said Baigrie. “After I got over the initial shock and anger of he could’ve killed me, but he didn’t. This has been going on for 25 years, it’s enough.”
Manuel quite literally grew up in prison, spending most of his time in solitary confinement. And when a 2010 Supreme Court decision deemed it unconstitutional to sentence minors who didn’t commit murder to a life term, Manuel, hoping for freedom, had his sentence reduced to 65 years. After years of campaigning from Baigrie and others, on November 10th a Hillsborough County judge finally authorized Manuel’s release.
“It was like this reunion with a long lost son. I got out of the car, and we just hugged for two minutes. It was very like 26 years in the making,” said Baigrie. “It’s the fact that he survived against all the odds and solitary confinement for over 20 years. He educated himself. He came through this and he came through it as a nice guy, not hardened.”
Baigrie says she’s been accused of being delusional or even of having Stockholm syndrome by those who question why she would campaign for her attacker’s release. But according to Baigrie, forgiveness is what’s best for herself as well as for her attacker.
“A lot of people in his situation, they just open the door and they let them back into society. If that would’ve happened, I would be worried, but he’s in a really good program, a re-entry program,” said Baigrie. “When you forgive it helps yourself because the gentleman I was with never forgave him and he’s still bitter and he’s still maybe racist.”
Watch video coverage of Manuel’s release below.
Read the full story at WFLA News.