A euphoric Audrey Edmunds walked out of the chain-link fence at Burke Correctional Institution in Waupun at 3:06 p.m. Wednesday and into freedom for the first time in nearly 12 years, less than a week after a court overturned the former Waunakee day-care provider's conviction in an alleged shaken-baby case.
Edmunds' release came after Dane County Circuit Judge Daniel Moeser agreed the 46-year-old mother of three could remain free "until the resolution of the case." Edmunds' mother and brother and about a half-dozen supporters were in the eighth-floor courtroom for the 10-minute hearing.
"We're very excited that she's finally getting released. It's been long overdue," said her brother, Wayne Glasbrenner of Hudson. "Hopefully this is near the end of her nightmare."
Keith Findley, co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, which is representing Edmunds, called Wednesday "a day that's been a long time coming." Edmunds had lost three appeals and had been rejected for parole three times before the Jan. 31 4th District Court of Appeals decision paved the way for her release.
Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard has said his office hasn't decided whether to retry Edmunds, who was convicted of first-degree reckless homicide in the 1995 death of Natalie Beard. Assistant District Attorney Shelly Rusch told Moeser that releasing Edmunds on a $20,000 signature bond was "the appropriate action at this point."
\ 'Just so thankful'
Three of Edmunds' friends and supporters made the 56-mile trip from Waunakee to Waupun on Wednesday in a driving snowstorm to pick up Edmunds, who appeared by telephone for her bail hearing. Interviewed as she made her way back to Dane County, a giddy Edmunds said she planned to spend the evening in Waunakee with friends and family.
"We're just going to hug and laugh and have thanksgiving," Edmunds said. "I'm just so thankful. It feels so good to be free and out and on with life."
Edmunds' first call, as the dark blue SUV pulled out of the prison parking lot, was to her three teenage daughters, who were on a ski vacation in Colorado. "There was a lot of squealing and screaming," Edmunds said, adding that she planned to be reunited with her children when they returned to their home in the Twin Cities.
"It's been a long haul for both sides," said Edmunds.
Under conditions approved by Moeser, Edmunds can live in Minnesota near her children, who have been cared for by their father, Dave Edmunds, since Edmunds was incarcerated in 1996. The couple divorced about seven years ago.
\ Appeals court ruling
Edmunds' release came after the appeals court's unanimous ruling that new medical evidence about shaken baby syndrome likely would cause a jury to find "reasonable doubt" that Edmunds caused Natalie's death.
The baby died on Oct. 16, 1995, after becoming unresponsive in Edmunds' care, soon after she was dropped off by her parents, Thomas and Cindy Beard. The Beards, who have since divorced, have declined media interviews in the past, citing a desire for privacy.
Edmunds served 12 years of a now-vacated 18-year sentence and had been scheduled for mandatory release next February. During four days of hearings last year, medical experts testifying for the defense and the prosecution offered conflicting opinions about what caused Natalie's death, including whether she died from violent or nonviolent means and whether what killed Natalie occurred just before her death or hours or days earlier. Based on that testimony, Moeser denied Edmunds' motion for a new trial, saying the prosecution's witnesses effectively countered the defense's arguments.
But the appeals court overturned that decision, saying there was a "reasonable probability" of acquittal given the current medical controversy over whether the symptoms Natalie had - including bleeding on the brain and damage to her retinas - were indicative of shaking.
\ 'No doubt'
Glasbrenner said he hopes Blanchard dismisses the case against his sister.
"We have no doubt about the medical evidence - it gets stronger and stronger every day," Glasbrenner said. "We're very confident if there is a new trial, she'll be found not guilty - rightfully so."