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Finding Forgiveness 43 Years Later

In 1975, suspected criminal Wendell Beard slipped out of his police handcuffs, jumped out of a police station window, and landed on the sidewalk 14 feet below. Officer Mike May followed Beard out the window, but shattered his right ankle and broke his left heel. After medical leave, May returned to work but the leg wasn't the same. He took a disability pension, went to law school, and he gave Beard no further thought.

But after 43 years May decided to track down the man who had changed his livelihood. After locating Beard at a prison near Cumberland, Maryland he wrote him a letter. "I suggested that, at his age, perhaps he might be able to exert a positive influence on the younger inmates," May says. "I spoke to him by phone shortly after that. He asked me if I knew about the Unger case."

That's a reference to a 2012 Court of Appeals ruling that found a serious flaw in the instructions that judges had been giving to Maryland juries for decades. The ruling opened the way for Beard and dozens of other inmates to ask for new trials. In August 2015 a judge in Baltimore resentenced Wendell Beard to time served. Mike May was there to support his release. While May could be said to have been a victim, having sustained a career-ending injury in that jump 40 years ago, he doesn't see it that way.

"After all," he says, "Wendell was trying to get away from me, not hurt me. I decided to jump out of the window. My leg still bothers me, but at least some of that has to do with my age." Wendell is forever grateful to Mike for letting him be a free man for the first time in 40 years.

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