TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — After decades behind bars, Ian Manuel never gave up fighting for his freedom. As of Monday, he is a free man trying to figure out what is next.
Manuel was just 13 when he shot Debbie Baigrie, a mother, in the face in downtown Tampa.
Manuel agreed to a plea deal with the hope that he would only serve a few years behind bars. However, the judge sentenced him to life.
In 2010 the Supreme Court threw out life sentences for juveniles. Manuel’s sentence was reduced. But, it was a Hillsborough County judge who decided on Nov. 10 Manuel could be released. His victim, Baigrie, was one of the people fighting to get him released.
“It was like this reunion with a long lost son. I got out of the car, and we just hugged for two minutes. It was very like 26 years in the making,” said Baigrie, who joined Manuel for his first meal as a free man.
“It’s the fact that he survived against all the odds and solitary confinement for over 20 years. He educated himself; he came through this and he came through it as a nice guy, not hardened,” Baigrie said.
“He wrote his ticket. That was it, as soon as he told the cops,” she said. “The judge wanted to make an example of him and it backfired.”
Manuel will now enter a program where he will be re-integrated into society. Over the years, his story has gained national attention, including from the Today Show and The New York Times. It was picked up by the Equal Justice Initiative and featured in Bryan Stevenson’s book “Just Mercy.”
Baigrie tells News Channel 8 she’s received mixed responses over the years about her sympathy toward Manuel.
“A lot of people in his situation, they just open the door and they let them back into society. If that would’ve happened, I would be worried, but he’s in a really good program, a re-entry program,” she said. “When you forgive it helps yourself because the gentleman I was with never forgave him and he’s still bitter and he’s still maybe racist.”