DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Here's a story about a very unusual meeting between two men. One man spent years in jail for a murder he did not commit. The other man put him there. NPR's Michael May has been following the story of these two men for years and brought them together to meet for the first time.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR SLAM)
ALONZO HARDY: Hey, how's it going, Chris?
CHRIS SCOTT: What's up, dude?
HARDY: You doing all right?
MICHAEL MAY, BYLINE: Chris Scott spent 12 years in a Texas prison for killing a man in a drug deal gone bad. On this day, he's back in prison to meet Alonzo Hardy, the man who was really there that night.
SCOTT: It's, like, you know, reliving this whole thing over again knowing that I'm actually sitting in front of the person that sent me away for all of this time.
MAY: When I arranged this meeting, I'd already been following Chris for years for a documentary film. I wanted to see if Alonzo would take responsibility for what happened to Chris, and I wondered if Chris would be able to forgive him. The two men sat across from each other at a round table in the prison visiting room - Chris, dapper in a brown sports coat, chest held high; Alonzo, older, smaller, slumped in his chair, wearing prison white. Despite the fact that he was convicted for the murder, Chris still doesn't know all that much about what actually went down.
SCOTT: It's still, you know, hard for me to see just, like, why it happened, how it happened.
MAY: The other man, Alonzo Hardy, admits he was a crack addict, and on the night of April 6, 1997, he and his friend went to a house in Dallas. Alonzo thought they were just looking for drugs.
HARDY: At the time that the crime actually happened, I didn't have no idea that that was going to happen.
MAY: Alonzo says his accomplice shot the dealer and took his drugs and money. They ran, leaving the man to die in front of his wife.
HARDY: I'd do everything different - everything.
MAY: That night, Chris happened to be hanging out in the same neighborhood. The police picked him out of a large group. They said he matched the wife's description. But Alonzo was shorter than Chris and 10 years older.
SCOTT: I didn't think I looked like you back then, but something made them think that it was me.
HARDY: Even when they told me y'all got arrested, I didn't think they thought they could convict you because they didn't have no evidence to do that.
MAY: But in October 1997, Chris was convicted of the murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison.
SCOTT: You know, the day that they convicted me, it was raining, cold - for a crime I didn't commit. You just don't know how it felt. Maximum-security prison - soon as I went in, you know, I'm seeing dudes get raped, stabbed and everything. But I wouldn't have never been put in that position if it wasn't for y'all.
MAY: Alonzo absorbed all this, but he showed very little emotion. Like he did many times during the conversation, he simply acknowledged Chris' pain without really taking responsibility.
HARDY: Well, I can understand your pain. And I - and believe me, I truly do.
MAY: Most exonerations happen because of DNA evidence, but there's DNA in only a small percentage of criminal cases. In Chris' case, there was no hard evidence at all, just that one faulty eyewitness. But there's always at least one person who knows the truth of what happened - the person who actually did the crime. Alonzo says it weighed on him.
HARDY: Yeah, it really hurt me - had a lot of sleepless nights.
MAY: Over and over during the meeting, Chris pushed Alonzo on one question - how could you sit back and let another person sit in prison for a crime you had committed? Alonzo says he couldn't stop thinking about Chris' life sentence, which he refers to as 99 years.
HARDY: Had I'd have went to the police then and said, OK, this dude didn't do this crime, 9 out of 10, I'd have got that same 99. Now, how many people you know going to take a 99 when they ain't got nothing?
SCOTT: Probably nobody.
HARDY: OK, that's my point.
MAY: After a few years in prison, Chris gave up on ever getting out. But in 2004, seven years after Chris' conviction, Alonzo had a change of heart. He was already doing time in prison for another robbery. He'd been diagnosed with cancer and wasn't sure he was going to live much longer. He was sober and had become religious. He wrote an affidavit confessing to the crime. Chris wanted to know what motivated him.
SCOTT: How did it make you feel when you took my life and then gave it back?
HARDY: Well, I had did what God asked me to do.
SCOTT: I do commend you of coming forward, being a man about this situation.
MAY: In 2009, Chris Scott was freed. Picking up his life hasn't been easy, but Chris has found purpose. He started a nonprofit to help others who have been wrongly convicted. By the end of their one-hour conversation, Chris was sweating. He looked like a fighter who had gone 12 rounds.
SCOTT: Y'all destroyed a whole lot of lives that day because when I got out, my sons was grown, though. I got taken away from my kids a long time. They was kids, man. To see how they struggled without they father being in they life that whole time - they went through hell just like I did being in prison. They scarred for life because of something somebody else did.
MAY: A guard signaled. Their time was up. The two men awkwardly stood and faced each other. Alonzo put out his hand, but Chris didn't shake it.
SCOTT: I don't hate you, but I don't like you.
HARDY: And you got a right to that.
MAY: When I brought them together, I secretly hoped for some sort of reconciliation. But afterwards, I realized that no matter how many hours I spent with Chris, I could understand but never truly feel what he went through. Later, I asked Alonzo whether he regretted coming forward. He says he had to spend tens of thousands on a lawyer and had another felony added to his record.
Even knowing all of that, you'd do it again?
HARDY: With the peace that it has brought in my heart, yeah. It's a burden that was lifted that I'm thankful of.
MAY: For Chris' part, he told me he got something out of the meeting.
SCOTT: It made me feel good to be able to walk out of prison and leave him behind because at the end of the day, I was in nice pants, nice shirt, sports jacket. And with him, he was still in all white. So I know if you in all white, you not going home.
MAY: Chris says he now feels like he can move on.
SCOTT: So that day, it was all over for me like a bird flying in a summer breeze.
MAY: Michael May, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF SOULAR ORDER'S "COMING HOME")
GREENE: Chris Scott's story is featured in the documentary "True Conviction," which premieres tonight on the PBS show "Independent Lens."
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