Paul House

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A former death row inmate was freed from a Nashville prison Wednesday for the first time in nearly 23 years after an anonymous donor paid his bail.

Paul House, 46, who faces an October retrial in the 1985 killing of Carolyn Muncey, ate a "3 Musketeers" candy bar and sipped a soft drink after his release.

Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded he would not have been convicted based on the DNA evidence that emerged years after his trial, and a federal judge ordered prosecutors to retry House or free him.

House, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair, left prison in a white sport utility vehicle with his mother and his state-appointed public defender.

"I feel pretty good," House said. "All I am looking forward to is going home and eating some chili verde and pizza. I'm glad to be out. It's been a long time."

Joyce House said she was confident he would obtain justice at retrial, adding "I never gave up hope this day would come."

As House left the Lois DeBerry Special Needs Facility, about 10 members of the advocacy group called the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing clapped and cheered. They wore black T-shirts reading: "Free Paul House."

House's bond was initially set at $500,000, but the amount was reduced by a judge last week to $100,000 before an unnamed donor stepped forward and provided funds through the assistance of the advocacy group.

House's mother said she planned to send a personal thank-you note to the donor via the coalition.

Stacy Rector, the group's executive director, said the benefactor is from Tennessee and paid bail on Tuesday. She said the person did not want to be identified in order to keep attention focused on House's case.

"I think it (the donation) was motivated out of a deep (Christian) faith and deep sense that this is an injustice that needed to be rectified," Rector said.

The company that processed House's bond declined to say exactly how much was paid, although state law requires at least 10 percent of the total bond be posted to make bail.

Under the terms of his release, House can't leave his mother's home in Crossville and must be monitored 24 hours a day.

He also must register as a sex offender for an aggravated sexual assault conviction in Utah prior to moving to Tennessee in the 1980s. Department of Correction spokeswoman Dorinda Carter said prison officials have already completed paperwork to have House registered as a sex offender.

House had been incarcerated since July 17, 1985, but maintains he did not kill Muncey. Prosecutors are no longer seeking the death penalty.

In a 5-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded in June 2006 that reasonable jurors would not have convicted House if they had known what DNA tests revealed in the late 1990s.

Semen collected from Muncey's nightgown and underwear belonged to her husband, undercutting the premise that House killed her during a sexual assault. The court also said House's lawyers offered new witnesses who provided "substantial evidence pointing to a different suspect" — the victim's husband, Hubert Muncey.

Hubert Muncey, interviewed Wednesday by WBIR-TV in Knoxville after House's release, said he still believes in the guilt of the former death row inmate. "The way I see it, he was guilty to start with but I'm not the judge, not the jury. I'll leave that up to them," he told WBIR.

He said he's hurt when he hears accusations that he was responsible for the killing, adding he "couldn't do anything like that to a person or an animal."

After the Supreme Court opinion, Joyce House began preparing her home for her son, installing a wheelchair ramp and arranging for help with his medical care.

She said she prepared his favorite dish, chili verde, for his homecoming Wednesday.