Free after nearly a quarter-century: ‘I’m really lost at this point’
CHESTER — Under an overcast sky just spitting rain, James Kluppelberg walked out of prison Thursday for the first time in nearly a quarter-century and into a world of uncertainty.
He had nowhere to go. His wife had divorced him years ago, and for the most part, he had lost touch with his three children. He had never met his three grandchildren. His brother and three sisters were lost to him as well. His mother died from cancer in 2004. He had $14.17 in the pocket of his gray sweatpants, all that remained of his prison account.
“Until I walked out, I still had doubts it would happen,” he said.
Now 46, Kluppelberg was 18 when the fire happened and a 22-year-old contractor when he was put in prison. Sentenced to life in prison although the prosecutors had sought the death penalty, Kluppelberg maintained his innocence in spite of the horrific nature of the crime. With the steep stone walls of Menard behind him, Kluppelberg described a prison existence that was monotonous and, at times, violent and dangerous. He said he read voraciously to relieve the boredom and educate himself, turning to news magazines such as Newsweek to keep up with the world and Popular Science to satisfy a scientific curiosity. He called himself a “CNN junkie.”
What turned the case was the advancement of science, particularly in what is known about how fires behave. The indicators of arson that authorities cited to win Kluppelberg’s conviction have since been debunked. Many are considered just myths in spite of the sway they once held in courtrooms.
Like many inmates, he studied his case constantly, looking for new ways to prove his innocence. He took correspondence courses as well and, he said, became an ordained minister.
“You get to see what technology looks like,” he said of an outside world he viewed only on television. “You just don’t get to use it.”
- Why is Montana so keen on sending innocent men up the river? Why won’t they even admit that in all of the inmates that have been within the prison system or are now in the system that there has not been some mistakes or misconduct? Why won’t they even take a look? Are the officials that pompous or that arrogant, or just that plain corrupted for money they don’t want too because they know that there are inmates that have been wrongfully convicted or placed under a bogus label? Think Montana, think! This could be you at some point at the rate Montana is going.