Alvin Kennard 22, now 58, was imprisoned without parole for the first-degree robbery of $50.75 under the "three strikes law" of Alabama.
Now, 36 years on, Alvin Kennard is finally free after a judge ordered his release from a correctional facility in Bessemer Alabama.
Kennard was given the disproportionately harsh sentence under Alabama's old Habitual Felony Offender Act. He had previously been sentenced to three years probation for three counts of second-degree burglary in relation to one burglary in 1979. The fourth conviction - for the bakery robbery, which was committed with a knife and involved no injuries - meant he was sentenced to life without parole.
Emotional friends and family leapt up and raised their arms in celebration in the court as circuit judge in Jefferson County David Carpenter re-sentenced him to time served.
"All of us [were] crying", his niece, Patricia Jones, told reporters. "We've just been praying and trusting in God that this day would come and it's here, and we're so grateful to God. We've been talking about it for, I don't know, 20-plus years, about being free."
"He says he wants to get him a job, he wants to support himself, and were going to support him", said Jones.
Kennard did not walk out of court a free man, and will have to be processed out by the Alabama Department of Corrections.
Alvin Kennard, who previously worked in carpentry and construction, reportedly told the judge he wants to work as a carpenter. He attended court shackled and wearing a red-and-white striped prison uniform.
Kennards attorney, Carla Crowder, who is executive director of Alabama Appleseed Centre for Law and Justice, said following the re-sentencing that Kennard is "overwhelmed".
"What is extraordinary about Mr. Kennard is that even when he thought he was going to be in prison for the rest of his life, he really turned his life around" she said. "He is overwhelmed at this opportunity, but has remained close with his family, so he has incredible support."
Crowder, who was appointed to Kennard's case after it was spotted by a compassionate judge, said there are "hundreds" of prisoners in similar situations still imprisoned because they do not have attorneys. "Its incredibly unfair and unjust the hundreds of people in Alabama serving life without parole for non-violent, non-homicide crimes," Crowder added.
In 2013, the Alabama Sentencing Commission adopted new guidelines which, if they had been in place when Kennard robbed the bakery, would have made his previous crimes not serious enough to trigger a life sentence without parole.
Had these new standards been in place then, Kennard couldn't have been imprisoned for any more than 20 years, his attorney Carla Crowder said. He could have been eligible for parole after 10 years.
The district attorney's office did not oppose the change in his sentence. Prosecutor Lane Tolbert said, however, that his office did not err in applying the law.
"But let me be clear, this is not about $50."
Kennard told the judge he is still remorseful for his crimes.
“I’m sorry for what I did, I was wrong."