A frail, repentant Roswell Gilbert regained his freedom Thursday after spending more than five years in prison for the 1985 "mercy killing" of his ailing wife.
Gilbert, 81, acknowledged publicly for the first time that he had been wrong to kill his wife of 51 years, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease and osteoporosis.
"I shouldn't have killed my wife, now I know that," said Gilbert, whose case focused national attention on the killing of an ailing loved one. "It's difficult to explain to anyone who hasn't been through this trauma, a mental trauma really," Gilbert said.
He said his wife's illness "created just a complete state of desperation in my mind . . . . It's a lousy excuse, but that's what it was."
Gilbert shot his wife, Emily, twice with a 9-millimeter Luger in March, 1985, in their Ft. Lauderdale apartment.
He was serving a mandatory minimum prison term of 25 years on a murder conviction when Gov. Bob Martinez and the Florida Cabinet granted him clemency Wednesday.
Besides a hamburger, a shot of bourbon and a soft bed, Gilbert said he was looking forward to seeing his three grown grandchildren soon.
"I haven't had a good look at them for a long time," he said.
Gilbert, who suffers from heart and lung diseases, wants to regain some of the 40 pounds he lost in prison and "recoup my health."
He chuckled at reports that his death may be imminent.
"I'm a tough old rooster . . . don't believe it," Gilbert said, adding that he would probably ignore his daughter's pleas to stop smoking.
"Daddy has very bad emphysema, and one of the main things I'm going to do is really insist he quit smoking," said daughter Martha Moran, the Gilberts' only child.
Moran, who lives in Baltimore, said she believes that her mother would say: "It's about time they let him out."
Actor Robert Young, who portrayed Gilbert in a 1987 television movie, "Mercy or Murder?," said he was elated by the news of Gilbert's clemency.
"That's sensational," the 83-year-old Young said.
Although the two men never met, Young said he had spoken with Gilbert many times by telephone. "We had wonderful chats," Young said. "There was no self-pity in him at all. It was a remarkable experience for me to play the role and get to know the man."
Gilbert was examined in January, and a medical report showed that he suffered from heart and lung diseases and was considered "at high risk of death at any time," because of his age and physical condition.
Gilbert, who left the North Florida Reception Center with a handful of possessions in a small brown paper bag, described prison as a "human zoo."
"It's been plain awful for a freedom-loving person like myself," he said.
Gilbert left the prison for a friend's home at an undisclosed site.