ANCHORAGE - Former state Reps. Vic Kohring and Pete Kott returned to Alaska after their release from prison and were greeted by family and friends.
The U.S. Department of Justice last week said prosecutors had failed to turn over favorable evidence before their 2007 trials on bribery, extortion and conspiracy. On Wednesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordered both men released from prison, leaving the trial judge, U.S. District Judge John Sedwick in Anchorage, to set conditions.
Sedwick set back-to-back hearings for Kott and Kohring for June 17 "so the court may set terms and conditions" for their continued release.
He has not set a time to hear the substantive case involving the withheld evidence. The 9th Circuit directed Sedwick to determine whether the material was serious enough to prejudice their trials. If so, he could order new trials or dismiss charges.
Kohring attorney John Henry Browne said the material he's seen so far shows his client did not get a fair trial.
"There are many, many smoking guns," Browne said from Yakima, Wash. "There's hundreds of pages."
Reached Thursday in a friend's car as they headed north to his family's home in Wasilla, Kohring joked: "This is Vic 'Jailbird' Kohring." He and Kott sat next to each other on the plane trip from Oregon, he said.
"When we touched down at the airport there, we looked at each other and we clasped our hands together in joy that we were finally home after this awful ordeal," Kohring said.
Kohring left prison in Taft, Calif., earlier Thursday and rode by bus to Oregon. He had been in prison about a year.
"I'm a free man and it's just the greatest feeling in the world after being down as they say, in prison terms, for a full year," Kohring said.
He was sporting hair long enough for a ponytail he grew to protest his prosecution.
Kott was in prison at the federal correctional institution in Sheridan. He was confined nearly a year and a half.
"Excitement isn't the right word," said his daughter, Pamela Kott, before her father landed. "No one can take away my happiness right now."
Pamela Kott was pregnant during her father's trial in 2007 on corruption charges. Her little girl, Trinity, is nearly 17 months old.
Kohring, famous for his big appetite, said he lost 47 pounds in prison. He said he was famished when he arrived in Alaska.
"The first thing I did when I got out of the airport was make a beeline for Kentucky Fried Chicken," he said.
He's plans to dipnet for salmon on the Copper River, something he's done since he was a child.
"I thought about that every single day of my incarceration," Kohring said. "That's where I'm headed, just to get away for a while."
The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility is conducting an inquiry, but it has not disclosed anything publicly. Separately, a special prosecutor in Washington, D.C., is looking at a similar issue involving the same prosecutors as a result of the collapse of the case against former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.
The special prosecutor was appointed by the trial judge in Stevens' case after the Justice Department admitted it violated law and the judge's orders in failing to turn over favorable evidence.