Celester McKinney and Brian Betts were released from prison June 1 on parole after serving over 25 years behind bars on murder charges. 

The Kansas City, Kansas, cousins were convicted in the 1997 murder of 17-year-old Greg Miller. During their initial trial no physical evidence was found connecting them to the crime and they were convicted largely on witness statements that changed often or were later recanted. 

Despite their claims of innocence and repeated efforts to receive a new trial the two were not cleared of the charges but were granted parole on their first hearing in February. 

The questionable circumstances of their conviction include allegations of coercion by the infamous KCKPD detective Roger Golubski, who has been indicted on federal civil rights charges that accuse him of kidnapping and sexual assault. Golubski has also been charged with conspiring with drug kingpins in a sex trafficking ring. He’s denied all allegations. 

Celester McKinney celebrates his release from prison with a fist in the air. McKinney says that he’ll be focused on reconnecting with family but has expressed interest in clearing his name.

The murder victim Miller was also Golubski’s nephew, one witness in the case against Betts and McKinney was Golubski’s brother-in-law, while another was a drug dealer Golubski is accused of conspiring with, and the third witness was Betts’ uncle who later recanted saying Golubski coerced his testimony. 

The cousins’ defense team had requested a new trial, but a judge denied it in December, saying that they couldn’t prove the coercion claims. The families of the murder victim tell The Kansas City Star that they believe the cousins are guilty.

McKinney was allowed to relocate to Atlanta to live with his mother, and is eager to find a job in renewable energy with the associates degree he earned while behind bars. Betts will live temporarily with his mother in KCK and had a job lined up directly after his release. 

Betts went to prison with an 8-month-old son, but came home to four grandchildren. Betts and McKinney are initially focused on reconnecting with family but have expressed interest in clearing their names.