Ex-convict Gene McGuire is sharing his remarkable story of being set free from a life sentence for a murder he did not commit in his new book, “Unshackled.”
As a 17-year-old sophomore in rural Pennsylvania, hanging out one night with an older cousin he admired, Gene McGuire had no idea the trouble into which he was about to get. While Gene waited outside the bar at which they had been drinking and shooting pool – which his cousin had decided to rob – unbeknownst to him, his cousin subsequently murdered the bar owner. When Gene heard the sounds of violence coming from inside the bar, he ran inside and yelled, “Stop!” but it was too late.
Gene ran in fear, but after a couple of days, reality set in, so he turned himself in to the authorities and was charged as an accomplice to the murder. His inexperienced public defender advised him to plead guilty, stating that he would likely only receive 8 to 10 years. But this couldn’t have been further from the truth, and when the sentence “the rest of your natural life” came down, Gene was left in shock with no hope for the future.
“But, as is always the case with our God, tragedy wouldn’t have the last word,” writes Harvest Christian Fellowship Pastor Greg Laurie in his foreword to the book. “Gene’s story takes you from that fateful night, the scene of the crime, through years of running from God, to a place where he finally fell on his knees before Him. Gene’s is a powerful testimony of how our God’s love pursues, how His mercy heals, and how His grace translates ruins to redemption.”
The book’s full title, “Unshackled: From Ruin to Redemption,” tells readers that Gene’s story has a happy ending, one that he would tell you was happy whether he ever got out of prison or not, as it took 10 years of life behind bars before he fully realized his need for a Savior – 25 years before his eventual release.
During his incarceration, Gene had become involved in the typical prison scene – drugs, fights, pornography and the like – but he recalls several encounters along the way that helped point him to Christ. Eventually, he gave in to an invitation to attend an evangelistic crusade held inside the prison walls, and wound up responding to the Gospel invitation at the final service.
Humbled by his experiences, but overjoyed at how God has redeemed his life, Gene goes on to recount in the book how he was used to reach others in prison ministry during the rest of his incarceration, becoming a mentor and a pastor to those in his flock.
“It’s my privilege, in this book, to share my story with you,” he writes. “To take you back and walk you through those scenes – the sights, sounds, events – to walk you through the first 17 years of my life, and then the next 35; through the most tragic of all my decisions and actions and the most beneficial and life-changing; through the deep, deep darkness and into the magnificent and resplendent light.”
Gene had applied for commutation of his sentence several times through the years, but had always been denied. But in 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that juveniles cannot be sentenced to life without parole for non-homicide offenses. He was offered the opportunity to file a petition for relief, which was granted. As an attorney looked into the case, Gene’s original attorney’s files were discovered – he had passed away several years earlier. The new attorney recognized right away that Gene never received an adequate defense.
At his resentencing trial on April 3, 2012, Gene expected to receive a new sentence with the possibility of parole, and that he would return to prison and begin working on the parole process. Instead, as the judge read the sentence, he stated that Gene’s revised term was to be no longer than 34 days, 9 months and 15 days – making him a free man that day.
Since then, Gene has continued to be involved in ministry, to those in prison, to those newly released, and in churches around the country, sharing his story of the freedom in Christ available to all, whether the prison is made of bars or guilt and regret. Although a native of Pennsylvania, he now resides in the Dallas-Fort Worth area where he serves as chaplain for Babe’s Chicken Dinner House for owner Paul Vinyard. In addition to Laurie, a great number of faith leaders have met Gene and endorsed his book, including James Robison, Founder of Life Outreach International; Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer, Faithful Central Bible Church in Los Angeles; Pastor Larry Hutch, DFW New Beginnings; Dr. Larry Titus, President of Kingdom Global Ministries; and Tillie Burgin, Executive Director of Mission Arlington/Mission Metroplex.
The book hist shelves in February