BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Pete Halat gets very emotional when he talks about the people who helped him survive his 15 years and nine months in federal prisons.
"If you've got a loving wife and a family who supports you, and the kind of friends that I have, the support of the friends that I have, it makes it a lot easier," Halat said during an exclusive interview with WLOX News. "I know because I met a lot of people who were not lucky enough to have a family, and a daughter and two sons, and grandchildren and in laws, and just extended family that were just totally supportive of me."
One of the first thoughts he had when authorities locked him a holding cell was about his family.
"The first thing that came to my mind was the disappointment that I'd be found guilty," Halat remembered thinking. "But then, how long would I be away from my family if the judge sentenced me on those charges? And I knew that would be a sea change in my life, obviously, because I was going to have to leave my family, my job and everything. And to be honest with you, by that time, we had suffered some pretty grievous losses."
The former Biloxi mayor sat down with WLOX News for a one hour interview. It was the first time he answered questions about his trial, and the prison time he served since being released from federal custody.
When asked why he agreed to the interview, Halat said to clear his name.
"I wanted to do it because there's a lot of misconception out in the public. And I'll be honest with you, I think most of that misconception comes from the reporting that the media has made about this case. And I wanted to try and clear up some of the issues," he said.
The biggest issue he mentioned several times was the jury's finding that he had no role in the murders of Vincent and Margaret Sherry.
"I was acquitted in count two of the indictment, which charged the substantive crime of murder. Not guilty. Not guilty. But people still report that I was convicted in connection with the murders of Vince and Margaret Sherry," he said.
Those people, Halat said, believe more in habitual criminals than they do in him.
The people he cares most about are the ones who've been his rocks during the most trying time of his life. And that starts with his wife, Sandra, and his daughter, Brandyn.
"I was looking at them through bars for the first time," he said, thinking back to July 17, 1997, moments after the jury convicted him on conspiracy to commit wire fraud, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and conspiracy to violate the racketeering statute.
For the first time, Halat was a prisoner, locked in a cell, with no way to get out. His wife and daughter provided comfort, encouragement, and strength.
"I knew at that point I was going to be able to make it. I knew that I had people behind me that I wanted behind me. And I knew I was going to make it no matter what, no matter if I had to do the whole time."
Halat's time in federal custody took him to West Virginia, North Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana. His final days as a federal inmate were at a halfway house in Hattiesburg. He left that facility on April 23.
Since then, Halat has caught up with dozens of friends in the Biloxi community. Those people, he said, were the ones who always stood by his side.
"It's been a humbling experience for me," he said, "because my friends have made me feel so good, so wonderful. There will never be a way that I can thank them or show them the gratitude that I have. But, I'm going to try. I'm going to try."
To see excerpts from Pete Halat's one hour interview with WLOX News Director Brad Kessie, watch WLOX News at 10:00 tonight and again on Wednesday night. And after the Wednesday story airs, be sure to log on to WLOX.com. We'll post the entire interview online.