I’ll wake up any minute, I told myself. Camille won’t be dead and I’ll be at home with my kids.
But, as the hours turned to days, it became apparent this was real life.
Earlier that week, on November 5, 1999, my wife’s 14-year-old sister, Zetta ‘Camille’ Arfmann, who lived with us, had disappeared.
My wife, Heidi, and I had been out searching for her with the whole town.
Then, two days later, police had the worst news.
Camille had been found dead. Gentle, sweet Camille had been shot four times and her body had been hidden in a shallow grave.
But the shock waves kept coming. My older brother, Tom Bledsoe, 25, had confessed to the crime.
He’d led police to Camille’s body, which was on my parent’s property, where he still lived.
‘I can’t believe it,’ I told Heidi, as we tried to comfort each other and our two young boys.
Tom and I hadn’t been in touch for a while.
We were different – he was the quiet reserved type, while I was more outgoing.
But, of course, I would never have thought he was capable of this.
My parents, Floyd and Catherine, must have been blind-sided too.
I always felt Tom was the favoured one.
I never got the chance to speak to them about it though, because police wanted me for questioning and a polygraph test.
And that’s when things took an unexpected turn.
Assuming Tom was still the main suspect, I was shocked when the questions seemed to be implying I’d killed Camille.
‘Tom’s taken his confession back,’ I was told. ‘He says you did it and then persuaded him to take the rap.’
Then they told me I’d failed my lie detector test but Tom had passed his.
Bewildered, confused and terrified didn’t even cover it.
Heidi tried to be supportive, but we were already having problems before this.
Now, here I was, a 23-year-old, suddenly being charged with a murder I didn’t commit.
I was held in jail with no chance of bail.
At first, I was naively confident.
Surely Tom will tell the truth, I thought.
‘You need to sort it out,’ I said to Mum when she came to visit me.
‘We’ll see,’ she said vaguely.
A trial was scheduled and my lawyer was positive that I would be going home too, especially as there was no physical evidence tying me to the scene.
Then, in court, Tom got on the stand. He didn’t look at me as he told the jury lie after lie.
Worse still, my parents gave Tom an alibi saying he’d been with them at the time of the murder.
How could they? I thought horrified.
Their lies could put me in jail.
When the foreman announced the verdict, my nightmare came true. Guilty.
I was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison while my brother – the real killer – walked free.
My divorce from Heidi came through on the same day. I don’t think she believed I did it, but our marriage was not going to survive what was ahead.
She took my kids and I didn’t see them again.
Six guys befriended me after I arrived in prison.
‘It’s no church picnic,’ one warned, teaching me how to stay out of trouble.
My parents visited but they never spoke about the case.
It was tough to see them after what they had done.
Hope gradually ebbed away after my appeal was denied.
I threw myself into anything positive I could, like volunteering at the prison hospice, getting school qualifications and learning how to paint.
I also went on a journey of acceptance and forgiveness, and eventually learnt to let go of the anger I felt for Tom and my parents.
Then, 14 years into my sentence, the Innocence Project took an interest in my case. The organisation, which helps people who’ve been wrongfully convicted, sought permission to test DNA from Camille’s body.
It transpired that at the time of the original investigation this hadn’t been done.
Now, it was found to be Tom’s.
Suddenly, there was proof.
He had raped Camille.
Shockingly, my father’s DNA was also found on Camille’s socks suggesting that he had helped drag her body to its burial site.
A week after the results were made public, my brother killed himself.
I raped and murdered a 14-year-old girl, he wrote in a suicide note. I sent an innocent man to prison.
After 15 years in jail, on December 8, 2015, I was exonerated and set free.
I ate steak and drank champagne with my legal team, and the pub even gave me a free dessert!
I adopted a dog, Alfred, and met my kids again.
I also started a relationship with Amanda, 31.
We married in autumn 2016 and our kids followed.
Blake, is now four, Bryce, two, and Brynlee, one.
I’ve seen my parents too and I still love them.
They haven’t ever been charged with any crimes and while I can’t excuse what they did, it doesn’t help me to hate them for it.
They’ve done what they’ve done and it’s made me who I am, scars and all.
I still don’t know why and answers are what I want.
I may never get them, so I have to try and put it behind me and enjoy the life I’ve missed out on for so long.