Former state Reps. Vic Kohring and Pete Kott were back in Anchorage on Thursday night after being released from prison, reuniting with family and friends at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.
Reached in a friend's car as they headed north to his family's home in Wasilla, Kohring joked:
"This is Vic 'Jailbird' Kohring."
Kohring said he and Kott sat next to each other on the plane trip from Oregon.
"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, sporting hair long enough for a ponytail he grew to protest his targeting by federal corruption fighters, and Kott were released under extraordinary orders issued Wednesday and Thursday by courts in San Francisco and Anchorage. He said he might cut his hair soon.
Kohring left prison in Taft, Calif., earlier Thursday with a Greyhound bus ticket to Oregon in his hand, his lawyer said. He had been in prison about a year.
After Kohring climbed down from the bus at Sheridan, in Oregon, officials gave him a ride to Portland International Airport and handed him a plane ticket to Anchorage, according to his Seattle attorney, John Henry Browne.
"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.
Kott was in prison at the federal correctional institution in Sheridan. He's been confined nearly a year and a half.
Reached Thursday before her father landed, Kott's daughter Pamela Kott said: "Excitement isn't the right word. No one can take away my happiness right now." Efforts to reach Kott directly weren't successful.
Pamela Kott was pregnant during her father's trial in 2007 on corruption charges. Now her little girl, Trinity, is nearly 17 months old. Pamela Kott said she and Trinity visited her father at Sheridan prison every few months last year and were there again last weekend. They planned a welcome-home celebration in Alaska with family and close friends.
Kohring said the worst part was being away from family.
"That separation was a killer," Kohring said. He said he heard family and friends were tying yellow ribbons around spruce trees in Wasilla.
He said he got through the ordeal with his faith in God, and the support of his family and his attorney.
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.
Now he's looked forward to dipnetting for salmon on the Copper River, something he's done since he was a kid.
"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."
On Wednesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordered both men released from prison when the Justice Department acknowledged it had failed to turn over favorable evidence before their 2007 trials on bribery, extortion and conspiracy. The Appeals Court left it to U.S. District Judge John Sedwick in Anchorage to actually set the men free pending resolution of the evidence issues.
Shortly after getting the 9th Circuit order on Wednesday, Sedwick directed U.S. marshals to get the two men to Anchorage "as soon as reasonably possible."
But Sedwick turned up the heat with new orders telling the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to release the men immediately.
Sedwick also ordered Kohring and Kott to contact the U.S. Probation and Pre-trial Services Office in Anchorage as soon as they arrived in town. That office monitors federal defendants on bail, probation and home detention.
Sedwick also 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 yet 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 entirely.
Browne, Kohring's attorney, said the material he's seen so far shows Kohring did not get a fair trial, and he hasn't gotten everything yet.
"There are many, many smoking guns," Browne said by cell phone from Yakima, Wash., where he had been in court. "There's hundreds of pages."
Browne said he was restricted from disclosing any details about the material, but said he looked forward to having the matter heard in open court -- along with the possibility of putting prosecutors on the stand to testify about why they didn't turn it over in the first place.
The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility is conducting just such 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.