BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Pete Halat quietly stepped out of a Hattiesburg halfway house just after 8:00 a.m. He didn't say a word. He simply walked toward a car that was waiting to take him home.
Halat didn't talk. But a family member shared three words that could be heard across the compound. "Free. Free. Free," that family member exclaimed.
Halat begins a new chapter in his life today. After almost 16 years in federal prison, the former Biloxi mayor will walk out of a Hattiesburg halfway house Wednesday morning a free man.
In 1997, a Hattiesburg jury found Halat guilty of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. That conspiracy was linked to a lonely hearts club scam run out of a Louisiana prison.
Prosecutors alleged the scam led to the murders of Vincent and Margaret Sherry. However, Halat was found not guilty of charges that he conspired to help commit those murders.
Halat's daughter told WLOX News the years her father spent in prison have been hard on the entire family. And that they have been "impatiently waiting for this day for 15 years, 9 months, and 7 days."
"As those who know him will attest, my father is an exceptional man who has suffered an enormous miscarriage of justice," Brandyn Halat Skeen said in a statement from the family.
"Today, our family moves farther away from a disastrous period in our lives by celebrating with our friends the re-establishment of long-suppressed relationships. We have a lot of catching up to do. And we do it knowing that the tragic deaths of our friends, Vince and Margaret Sherry, remains unfairly clouded."
Skeen has a message for both those who stood by her father, and those who she says did not.
"To those who supported us -- and there are so many – words are inadequate to express the depth of our gratitude. To those who have been unsupportive and always wanted to believe the worst, we refuse to wallow in your clouded judgment," she wrote.
"Of course, none of us has handled this better than my father, Peter Halat. At a time when we should have been the ones to offer him constant encouragement and strength, it was Dad who assumed the role of mitigator. His resolve was stoic, inspirational and unyielding in spite of repeated denials of his well-founded appeals. He constantly provided the strength we needed to survive this, assuring us by example that we shared the family strength necessary to endure."
"We have experienced a situation that could have torn us apart and destroyed our family and lifelong friendships. Instead, we chose to persevere and overcome an injustice that no family should ever have to experience."