RENO - Jack Mazzan, so overcome by emotion that he could barely speak, was released on bail Saturday three months after a favorable Nevada Supreme Court ruling ended his 20 years on death row.
''I am overwhelmed. I gotta go,'' Mazzan, his voice cracking, whispered as reporters met him at the Washoe County Jail, where he has been held since the high court's Jan. 27 decision.
Mazzan, 53, was accompanied by his lawyer, JoNell Thomas, who met his bail requirement by giving jailers a $100,000 cashier's check provided by his family. He was wearing jail denims and carrying only a couple of books, some legal papers and a small bag of personal effects.
''Overwhelming is probably an understatement. I can't keep my emotions from my voice,'' Mazzan said later as he drove around Reno with Thomas - on streets he hadn't seen since his arrest in December 1978 for the drug-related death of a local judge's son.
''I'll see friends right away. I'll talk to my mother and actually I'm going to be very low-key and very low-profile,'' Mazzan added.
''And I'm going to try to enjoy every minute as it comes along and just be thankful that these minutes are here.''
One of the first friends he saw was Lavonia Young, who had tried unsuccessfully to put up property to cover his bail. She also has helped Mazzan find an apartment in Reno, where he's required to stay pending a possible retrial starting July 10.
Young's daughter had encouraged Mazzan to move from Virginia to Reno in the mid-1970s. He was working as a hairdresser when he was arrested for the knifing death of Richard Minor Jr., his friend.
At a quickly organized party at Young's home, Mazzan called his mother in North Carolina. Jean Mazzan plans to drive to Reno in a week or so, and Mazzan said, ''God willing, everything (in court) will work out and I'll drive back home with her.''
Did he ever give up hope? ''Sometimes the pressure was so intense that I'd wonder not whether I could make it another day but another 10 minutes,'' he said.
But Mazzan said friends inside and outside prison were ''nothing short of wonderful. Their faith in me never faltered. Their strength was my strength.''
Asked what's first on his list of things to do, Mazzan said he'll help his lawyers with his upcoming court case.
Anything else? ''I just want to sit and be part of life - other than taking a bath,'' said Mazzan, laughing. ''That's high on the list.''
Mazzan has had only prison and jail showers since late 1978. He has read about but never used the Internet. His first use of a cellular phone came when his lawyer handed him one as they left the jail so that he could talk with friends.
Mazzan didn't think much of the cell phone, but he liked seeing Reno. ''Reno is gorgeous - but it's lost its small-town status,'' he said. ''It really was a small town. I used to walk from one end to the other.''
Mazzan's release followed four court appearances before Washoe County District Judge Peter Breen over the past several days. Each time, he was expecting an immediate release.
But each time there were problems involving the property bond that Young had posted. Finally, she withdrew the bond. Mazzan's mother then asked her family to help, and his uncle, Carl Mazzan, came up with the bail money.
Mazzan was convicted of first-degree murder in 1979 and was put on death row in January 1980. He had appealed unsuccessfully several times over the years before winning the Jan. 27 ruling from the state Supreme Court.
In reversing Mazzan's conviction, the high court criticized prosecutors for failing to give the defense information about other suspects - alleged drug-dealers who hadn't been paid for thousands of dollars worth of drugs supplied to Minor.
Minor's body was found in his apartment by his father, then Reno Justice of the Peace Richard C. Minor.
Judge Minor, now retired, has said he always doubted the state's theory that one person, acting alone, was responsible for the killing. But he believes Mazzan had some role in the murder.