For Kareem Lane, the quantitative difference between freedom and imprisonment was $720,000, the personal difference immeasurable.
With his bond lowered Thursday from $750,000 to $30,000, the 37-year-old Shaw High School graduate accused of killing then-Muscogee County School District Superintendent Jim Burns in 1992 finally gained his freedom from the Muscogee County Jail, where he had been held since waiving extradition from Pell City, Ala., on May 4, 2010.
Trailed by reporters and photographers, Lane walked out of the jail right after sunset, about 7:45 p.m.
A jury Wednesday deadlocked on the murder case against him, leading Superior Court Judge Bobby Peters to declare a mistrial. Ten of the 12 jurors wanted to find Lane not guilty.
Anticipating hugging her husband for the first time since his arrest, Carol Lane was buoyant as she spoke to reporters earlier Thursday on the Government Center's ninth floor, where his trial ended inconclusively the day before.
The shadow of suspicion that has followed him since he was questioned at age 17 in Burns' fatal stabbing on Oct. 19, 1992, has not been dispelled. Prosecutors could elect to try Lane again.
"We have not made a decision," Assistant District Attorney LaRae Moore said of that option Thursday. Of Burns' family, she added, "It's not an easy thing for a family to go through."
The prosecution so far has not had a "meaningful conversation" with the Burns family about what could happen next, she said. She said prosecutors would have preferred Lane's bond be set at $75,000. His murder and burglary charges still are pending, she noted, because he was not acquitted.
The Burns family issued a strongly-worded statement late Thursday condemning Lane's release "on a minimal bond."
"We firmly believe he murdered Dr. Jim Burns with malice," the family said. "We believe that the evidence presented at trial, as well as additional evidence not presented, establishes his guilt. The jurors were not able to reach a unanimous verdict of guilt; however, they did not find him innocent. To allow Mr. Lane to live next to whomever he likes with no oversight should trouble all."
The terms of Lane's release include his returning to court whenever summoned and remaining a law-abiding citizen while free, said defense attorney Stacey Jackson. He said his client is free to travel between states, so Lane may move back to Alabama if he wants.
Lane has been advised not to comment on the case, Jackson said. Said Moore: "We asked for him not to be blogging about the case." Carol Lane's website advocating for her husband had been an issue of pretrial publicity.
Of Lane's trial ending in a hung jury, Jackson said: "It's a cautious victory, due to the fact that I don't know what the state plans on doing next."
Lane's family would have preferred he be acquitted, but, "at this point, we'll take him however we can get him," said Carol Lane. "It's been almost 2½ years, so we're just ready. We're excited."
The first thing she wanted to do upon her husband's release was end her abstention.
"At the beginning of this year, I stopped eating meat, to fast and support my husband through what he's going through," she said. "And so I told him the first thing I want is a hot wing. It may sound kind of crazy, but that will be me breaking my fast. And he wants some ribs."
More wistful desires will have to wait, such as the desire to recapture the life they had before the police picked up Kareem Lane in Pell City, back when he and his wife were two years younger.
She wasn't sure where they will go from here, she said. She has kept working while he was in jail, having moved in with a coworker after giving up the couple's rented trailer and giving away all their furniture. She hopes he can regain the job he had with an auto-parts manufacturer, but isn't sure they would move back to Pell City, after all they endured with his arrest.
"Basically we will have to rebuild everything, and just find a new place to live, but I'm sure with all the supporters that we have, friends and family, the transition won't take very long," she said.
Home will be wherever they are together, she said: "Really to me, as long as we're together, I don't really have a specific place in mind."--Jim Mustian contributed to this story