FORT LAUDERDALE — Anthony Caravella walked out of the Broward County jail on Thursday a free man -- at least temporarily -- for the first time in close to 26 years.
"I can't even tell you how excited I am. I think being free hasn't really hit me yet,'' Caravella told the Sun Sentinel. ``It's strange, everything is different.''
A judge ordered Caravella, 41, released after a recent test excluded him as the source of DNA found on the body of a Miramar woman he was convicted of raping and murdering in 1983. Broward prosecutors asked for him to be set free, for now, while they reinvestigate the case.
The last time Caravella was free, he was 15 years old, Ronald Reagan was serving his first presidential term, Michael Jackson's Thriller album topped the charts and a gallon of gas cost $1.24.
His impressions after the 20-minute drive from jail to the Davie home where he'll be living for the foreseeable future: People dress differently than in the 1980s, and traffic in Broward is much worse.
Being free after so long, it seemed, was intimidating and overwhelming.
He walks with his hands behind his back, a habit he picked up from being frequently handcuffed during incarceration. When a door opens, he stands by it, waiting to be told if it's OK to enter. He's worried he'll get lost if he walks outside. He can't quite believe that he can decide what to do, and when.
"I'm so used to people telling me what to do and now I'm on my own,'' he said.
Caravella, who has an IQ of 67, wants to work and hopes someone will give him that chance. He would like to go to a Miami Dolphins game and, some day, maybe even visit Disney World.
Caravella was reunited with his brother, Larry Dunlap, 30, and sister, Angela Butler, 43, in the lobby of the jail in downtown Fort Lauderdale. He grabbed their hands, then hugged them tightly before embracing and thanking his lawyer, Chief Assistant Public Defender Diane Cuddihy, and a Sun Sentinel reporter, both of whom worked on his case since 2001.
"I believe the world's big enough to start over,'' Caravella said. "Do I feel bitter? How do you answer that?''
The first thing Caravella did after his release was visit the mausoleum where his mother's remains are interred. Lorraine Buckels died at age 63 in July 2001, shortly after legal efforts began to overturn her son's conviction.
She always believed he was wrongfully convicted and constantly reminded her other children of his plight. On her death bed, she made her children promise they would keep trying to free him.
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