Paul Hildwin Set Free

Paul Hildwin waited for nearly 35 years. He waited in jail and then prison and then jail again. He waited for, and then survived, a death warrant.

He got cancer twice. He got sick of the iron and concrete surrounding him. He got a back tattoo of skulls and tombstones arranged in what he called a gateway to “my own living hell.”

In 1996, ten years after a Hernando County jury sentenced him to death in the killing of 42-year-old Vronzettie Cox, he got a resentencing hearing. But that ended in yet another death sentence, and so he waited for death, until in 2014 the Florida Supreme Court overturned his sentence and gave him something else to wait for: A new trial and, maybe, the chance to feel grass beneath his feet again.

He stopped waiting Monday.

The new trial was set to begin that morning, but instead, he accepted a deal: He pleaded no-contest to second-degree murder in exchange for a suspended life sentence and eternal probation. Hours later, he walked out of the Hernando County jail.