(GRANTHAM, Pa.)– At the age of 17 years old, Gene McGuire found himself sentenced to life behind bars without parole for a crime he did not commit. But after 10 years McGuire met Christ and the rest of his prison sentence and life was forever changed.  

On the night of June 17, 1977, in Lake Winola, Pennsylvania, McGuire was a teenage boy who had snuck out to the bar with his cousin Bobby Lobman. Not long after the night started, Lobman announced to his young cousin that he would rob the bar.  

“I knew I wouldn’t have done that; I knew that wasn’t something I was planning,” McGuire said. He waited in the car thinking his cousin was going to come out with some money. When he did not return, McGuire discovered his cousin had taken the bartender’s life. 

Both intoxicated, Lobman scooped McGuire up and fled to New York City where they walked the streets for a day and a half before McGuire turned himself in and his cousin continued to flee.  

 “My public defender told me that if I plead guilty to murder, I could be out in 10 or 12 years,” McGuire said. A day before his 18th birthday, on March 8, 1978, McGuire was wrongfully charged with second-degree murder and put behind bars for a life sentence without parole.  

For a period of three years during his sentence, before meeting Christ, the young man became involved in the drugs and violence of jail. “If you paid them enough […] they got drugs in through the visiting room and through staff members,” McGuire explained. 

But everything changed when he attended the “Prison Invasion ‘86” event. A group of churches in the area brought the gospel to the prison. McGuire said, during this three-day event, “I couldn’t move, and I needed to take my coat off before hurrying up front to accept Jesus.” He remembers repeatedly saying hallelujah and reading his Bible all day and night.  

“I felt like I had been forgiven,” said McGuire as he recounted this experience. Even though he was denied multiple times having his case retried or receiving parole, he would go back to his cell and say “‘Thank you God for denying me.’ And I knew it was tough, but I knew that when I’d say, ‘thank you’, it felt like God drew close to me” explained McGuire. 

McGuire was visited in prison monthly for 25 years by Rob Meier who he met along his faith journey. He shared the gospel with McGuire and helped him build a relationship with Christ. “Gene is a great example of applying the word, having a true born-again experience […]. Jesus said follow me, and so we follow Jesus, and we follow Gene too because he’s a follower of Christ,” Meier said.   

Later in his prison sentence, McGuire was told his brother committed suicide and his parents passed. “I still remember so vivid[ly] that I felt like I was gonna die in prison and I didn’t want to die in prison,” McGuire said. Despite experiencing dark points in his faith through these times, McGuire was still able to thank the Lord.  

He built a resume that was full of endorsements from influential people and rose to positions of leadership in the prison. After about 32 years, McGuire received confirmation from the Lord that he would be released but not because of his works.  

In 2010, a decision was made on a court case, Graham v. Florida. According to Justia U.S. Supreme Court Center, “Sentencing a juvenile defendant who did not commit homicide to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole violates the Eighth Amendment because it is disproportionate to the crime. These juveniles should have an opportunity to show that they can mature and reform their behavior.

Because of this case, the court was prompted to hear McGuire’s case again. All the prisoners McGuire knew, who filed for a retrial after this case, were denied. Wanting to avoid that kind of mark on his record, he waited until just ten days left to file for his case to be reheard. 

He later found out his original attorney pled him into an illegal plea agreement and he had an unconstitutional sentence. He was wrongly convicted of the sentence he received and was eventually released from jail after 34 years, nine months, and 15 days. He gave the credit of his release to the Lord and to prayer.

He made a point to go back and thank the judge afterward and was told he was the first person ever to do that. He now resides in Texas where he works as a pastor for a Christian family-owned restaurant, Babe’s Chicken Dinner House. Since his release, McGuire has written two books and has toured the country, sharing his testimony.