Montana Innocence Project freed client Dave Wilkes met his brother Tim for the first time just two weeks after his release from Montana State Prison.
“He was sitting outside on a bus bench and had his earphones in,” Tim said. “He was beating his head up and down, rocking out. I pulled up, and we hugged each other. Started talking and didn’t shut up for three days.”
Dave and Tim have the same father, but they never knew about each other. Tim had recently lost most of his immediate family. After his brother, sister, mom, and stepdad passed away, Tim’s wife encouraged him to track down his biological father.
“When I went and met him, he told me I had a brother in Montana that was about to get out of prison for something he didn’t do,” Tim said. “I had a week off of work in August of that year, and I decided to go to Montana and meet Dave.”
Dave was released from wrongful incarceration on July 20, 2018. He had just secured an apartment and was establishing a routine with pre-trial release when he received a text from Tim saying, “I think I might be your brother.”
“Tim drove up here for three days, and we immediately connected,” Dave said. “I’m looking at him, and he’s looking at me. Man, it’s like looking in a freaking mirror!”
Tim invited Dave to come down to Missouri for ten days. During that visit, Dave reconnected with his father who he had not seen in 22 years, and he met new friends and family. Before Dave went back to Missoula, Tim extended an invitation for Dave to move down as soon as he was able. Tim owned a piece of property across the street from his house and was excited to help get Dave set up with a new life.
“I said, ‘Let’s make this happen,’” Dave said. “I moved down here on August 8, 2019, and here we are. I own a half-acre. I’ve got an eight-foot by 45-foot Conex. I own two vehicles. You know, slowly rebuilding, but I’m getting there.”
Despite having never met until they were in their 40s and 50s, Dave and Tim share similarities.
“If you put me, and Dave, and our father in the same room, my wife is like, ‘Oh God, there’s three of them,’” Tim said. “All of the mannerisms and this and that. A lot of our lives have run perpendicular to each other too. Different things that we’ve done through the years. Kind of the lives that we lived.”
Tim said he has learned a lot about the criminal justice system through Dave. He did not know much about wrongful convictions. Now, he spends hours researching the topic and seeks to educate anyone who will listen.
“It blows my mind,” Tim said. “I don’t have much faith in the criminal justice system anymore whereas before I didn’t really believe that [people were wrongfully convicted] truly until I met Dave and started seeing all of the people that are incarcerated that didn’t do what they said they did.”
Almost three years later, Tim and Dave still love living across the street from one another. Pretty much every evening, they hang out, share a beer, and listen to music. Dave likes heavy metal, and Tim likes a little bit of everything.
Tim and Dave learned about each other at the precise moment when they both needed brotherhood the most. The two say the timing was “meant to be.”
“We’re brothers,” Tim said. “We don’t always see eye to eye, and we’ve had a couple of words here and there. But for the most part, we love each other, and we respect each other, and that’s the biggest thing.”