Connie Keel spent 29 years in prison for a murder her physically abusive husband committed in a liquor store while she sat in a car outside. The 50-year-old mother and grandmother was released and reunited with her family last Wednesday after Adam Reich, a 25-year-old University of Southern California law student, started an internet support campaign arguing that her husband forced her to wait in the car and that she was afraid to go against his wishes.
Keel, Reich, and Michael Brennan, director of the Post-Conviction Project at the USC School of Law spoke with Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen on Monday morning in an exclusive interview to discuss the fight to release Keel from jail.
Keel told Chen that she's thrilled to be a free woman, noting that she was most surprised by the changes in the design of vehicles and the size of stores.
But she was most excited to be back with her children. They were 2-and-4-years-old when she went away in 1980, and are now in their 30s and have kids of their own.
"It was really exciting to be a mother, to be reunited with my children - to watch them interact with each other, and watch them interact with my grandchildren," she said. "And to watch our bond together, after so many years of separation. It's a miracle."
Reich championed Keel's cause by writing letters and using social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. His campaign helped her get released after she tried and was denied parole 5 previous times.
"I think I just laid out the facts of the case," he said. "We had a great state investigation report that came down, substantiating her stories of abuse. And I also just basically told them that Connie was rehabilitated and she had proven that in her 29 years of service."
Brennan, who acted as the supervising attorney in this case, says that he was happy with the result, but wasn't surprised by it.
"Connie had served plenty of time, given what she was convicted of," Brennan said. "I was obviously pleased, and Connie and Adam both did a terrific job. But, not surprised."
Upon her release, Keel presented Reich with a key on which she had engraved "Thank you for opening the door" to express her gratitude to him.
"He's my hero," she said. "If he didn't fight for my release as strongly, to get this campaign going for my release, I don't believe I would be free today."