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Man Exonerated After 27 Years in Prison Finds Joy in Fatherhood



    Charles Chatman once believed he'd spend the rest of his life in jail for a crime he didn't commit and would never get the chance to have family. But now he's living the life he once could only dream about. (Published Monday, Feb. 13, 2017)

    Nine years ago, Charles Chatman became the 15th person cleared by DNA evidence in Dallas County.

    He lost 27 years of his life in prison for a rape he did not commit. At age 47, Chatman was exonerated in a Dallas courtroom on Feb. 26, 2008.

    Despite everything he'd lost, what pained him the most was not having the chance to be a father – or so he thought. 

    "What could I have been had I not spent 27 years in prison? The main concern is that I didn't have kids," Chatman said.

    But one year and eight months after his release from prison, Chatman had a daughter, Eden.

    Now he says her life has given his own life meaning, purpose and a forward-focus.

    "We do everything together," Chatman said of his 7-year-old daughter. "We cook together. We just hang out. And we go to movies and we swim. She's teaching me how to swim."

    "I love Eden, but I like Eden," he added. "I like just having her around me as much as I can."

    Despite the roadblocks life threw his way, Chatman feels blessed to be where he is now.

    "I mean, I'm so thankful to God that I didn't have a kid before I went in, which would have made them dependent on other people when I was in, and they would have grown up not knowing me," he said.

    He cherishes every moment he spends with Eden, whether it’s helping with homework or meeting her for lunch at school every day.

    "Because I don't ever want her to think she can't come talk to me about anything," Chatman said.

    Eden knows her father spent time in prison, and he has explained what happened to him in terms she can understand.

    "She understands that a lady lied on me and I went to jail," Chatman said.

    "She got her little baby way of talking about it. I didn't tell her that it was rape. I didn't tell her that I felt it was racist or racial," he said. "But I did tell her that I went to jail and I did tell her we live the way we live because I went to jail. She wants to know why I don't work, and stuff like that, and I tried to explain it to her at a level she can understand it."

    The state of Texas paid Chatman $80,000 for every year he was wrongly imprisoned, plus a lifetime annuity. Eden says she might want to be a lawyer when she grows up.

    "Because," she said, "you can help people out when they didn't do something or if they're innocent."