Exonerated man starts a new life after 25 years in jail - Fox 2 News Headlines

Exonerated man starts a new life after 25 years in jail

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

For nearly 25 years, James Kluppelberg was locked up for an arson murder that he had nothing to do with. His return to freedom has had its ups and down, but now, he's sharing his story of hope and encouragement as he works to move forward.

It's hard to imagine the difficulty of readjusting to life on the outside, but this is a story of one man's determination, positive attitude and faith which have helped him see his future with hope.

"I don't dwell on what happened to me, because what happened, happened," Kluppelberg says. "I can't change that, there's no reset button."

The 48-year-old has a bright outlook on life, despite the dark past behind him. Since July, he has been working as the maintenance coordinator at Senior Suites of Marquette Park on Chicago's South Side. It's a job he calls a blessing.

"They looked past all that and they've took me for what I was able to do, and they gave me the chance to prove myself and I found a home," Kluppelberg says of his new gig.

In 1988, Kluppelberg was arrested based on false testimony from a convicted felon facing more jail time. He was charged with setting a fire in 1984 that killed six people in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.

In 2012, the Exonoration Project at the University of Chicago got him set free after convincing a judge that police officers working under disgraced commander Jon Burge beat a confession out of Kluppelberg and manufactured evidence. A judge would later give him a certificate of innocence.

What started as a temp job is now full time.

"I love it," he says. "Realistically, I'm probably here on an average a half an hour every day just sitting out front, you know, just to make sure I'm on time, cause I enjoy coming here."

But there were about 400 applications that went nowhere. He recalls how a major retailer backed off a job offer after seeing his full resume, which included his conviction and exoneration.

"She read it, she says hold on a minute, I'll be right back. She left, came back, says I'm really sorry to have wasted your time, but we don't hire convicted murderers. And I said 'what part of exonerated doesn't compute for you?"

Kluppelberg says some of his greatest challenges were adapting to technology, particularly computers and cell phones and finding a place to live.

"I lived with my son for the first year because nobody would rent to me because I had no renter's history," he recalls.

He says his faith has played a big role in learning to live again.

"I'm a Christian at heart, and what keeps me going is you take it one day at a time. Somebody told me once a long time ago, if you ever want to hear God laugh, tell him what your plans are."

His bosses praise his attitude and work ethic. He hopes to work here as long as he can.

"To fix something for somebody, to see that look on their face, thank you. You've made my life better or you just in that little.... it's great, it really is," he continues. "I've got a lot more years behind me than I do in front of me, but I want to make the best out of what I've got in front of me."

Kluppelberg has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city and various police officers, including Jon Burge. He says since none of them could ever be held criminally accountable, that is only recourse for the 25 years stolen from him.

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