Debra Brown, right, hugs her son Ryan Buttars after exiting the Utah State Prison a free woman Monday, May 9, 2011, in Draper, Utah. After spending 17 years in prison Brown was released after her conviction for the 1993 murder of Lael Brown (no relation) was overturned. (AP Photo/Jim Urquhart)
DRAPER, Utah (AP) — It was a Mother's Day moment nearly 20 years belated. In the pouring rain Monday dozens of friends and family members stood waiting outside prison gates, huddling under umbrellas — some holding small children, others colorful balloons.
Shortly after 2:30 p.m. Debra Brown walked out of Utah State Prison after 17 years and touched off an emotional reunion. She had maintained her innocence all this time. Finally, a judge believed her and she was free to go.
"Maybe the weather doesn't look pretty to you guys, but it's the most beautiful day to me," Brown said later during a press conference with her attorneys and family.
It got even better when the sun came out late afternoon and news filtered in that the Utah Attorney General's Office notified the defense it would not appeal a judge's ruling overturning her conviction.
"Honestly I wasn't worried because my attorney said, 'Don't worry,'" Brown said Monday night. "It's a little closure, like when they removed those cuffs."
Brown said she was grateful and called herself the "luckiest person on earth."
Brown, 53, was recently declared "factually innocent" in a 1993 murder, becoming the first inmate exonerated under a 2008 Utah law allowing judges to reconsider convictions based on new factual — not scientific — evidence.
She didn't pedal a powder-blue bicycle out of prison as she envisioned in a dream three years ago. But the coaster she imagined was waiting there in the parking lot — a stuffed Chihuahua in the plastic white basket and a paper "red carpet" rolled out beneath its tires.
She hugged her oldest son, Ryan Buttars, who is 35, and released a bouquet of yellow balloons into the air.
Her short-term plans are to go fishing and get baptized. A year from now she wants to have earned the right to go inside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple in downtown Salt Lake City, visible from her attorney's office window. Brown could see the Draper Mormon temple from her prison window.
She refused to dwell on the lost time Monday, even though her father and grandparents died while she was in prison, and her children grew up and got married.
She was arrested in 1994 — 10 months after the shooting death of longtime friend and employer Lael Brown, who was 75. They are not related.
Monday's reunion brought back fond memories.
"It's almost like I'm 17, and he's 12, and she's 11 again," said Buttars, pointing to siblings and referring to their ages when their mother was arrested.
"What should we do? Should we go fishing? Who cares what we do? She's free ... and we're keeping her."
Brown saved one of the biggest hugs outside the prison for her brother Dave Scott, who made sure the bike his sister dreamed of was ready to go.
"She found a picture of that bike, tore it out of the magazine, and sent it to me with the price tag circled and the note, 'That will never happen,'" Scott said.
"I knew I had to go find that bike. It's been found and been purchased. I know she won't ride it today, but she'll get to look at it and honk that horn, and that's worth it."
Prosecutors initially said they would appeal the judge's decision to overturn the conviction. Brown had been sentenced to life.
Assistant Utah Attorney General Scott Reed said Monday morning he wanted another judge to review the facts in the case because there was "too much contradictory and competing" information.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, however, later tweeted that no appeal was forthcoming. His spokesman and defense attorneys confirmed that to The Associated Press.
"In the interest of justice and mercy, the time has come to bring closure to Debra Brown and everyone involved in this case," Shurtleff said in a statement Monday night. "She has served 17 years in prison and a judge has found her factually innocent. This was Utah's first case like this and I am convinced these types of challenges will be rare."
He noted that his office helped create the 2008 statute that allowed inmates to seek a hearing to prove their innocence.
Second District Court Judge Michael DiReda last week ruled that Debra Brown's alibi shows she was elsewhere when the victim was shot to death at his home in Logan — about 80 miles north of Salt Lake City.
The court, in addition to expunging Brown's criminal record, on Monday ordered her to receive financial restitution provided by the 2008 law.
She is to receive about $570,000 — with an initial payment of about $114,000.
Brown said she wasn't worried about the money, even though other inmates ribbed her that she was going to be rich.
"What has been taken is a lot like what happens with rape victims — you don't get it back," Brown said. "No amount of money will replace what's gone. That's not the focus of my interest. I got everything I wanted already."
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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