GLASGOW – Delano Foster of Glasgow spent years of his life behind bars for a crime that even his “victim” said he didn’t commit.
Foster met his now wife, Amber, back in 1995 when he was 19 years old and she was 15.
“We went driving around and checked out the town and he paid a lot of attention to me,” said Amber Foster. “We just couldn’t get away from each other after that.”
Delano was in town for a funeral and went back to Texas after the memorial.
But he felt compelled to come back to Glasgow and immediately returned.
“I wanted to make a living for myself,” said Foster. “And in the back of my mind, I knew I was in love with Amber.”
Not long after they fell in love, the young couple learned they were pregnant.
Shortly after Amber learned about her pregnancy, Glasgow Police came to arrest Delano for rape.
“It’s just crazy to me to think I’d ever have to register the rest of my life over falling in love,” said Delano.
The age of consent in Montana is 16, and in the eyes of the law, Amber was not legally able to consent to having sex.
“Next thing you know I’m facing not less than four years in Montana State Prison for sexual intercourse without consent,” said Delano.
Amber’s mother was charged with endangering the welfare of a child for permitting the relationship.
With no father in the picture, her mother facing charges, and the father of her unborn child locked up, Amber felt alone.
“It was devastating because really he was all I had,” said Amber.
Amber tried to tell authorities she loved Delano, but she said no one listened.
Delano was sentenced to six years in prison with four years suspended.
He was sentenced by Judge Jon McKeon, the same judge who recently sentenced Martin Blake, 41, to probation for raping a 12-year-old girl.
Amber visited Delano often, working to build the father-son bond and keep their relationship alive.
“It wasn’t just me that did time for that crime, my whole family did the time with me,” said Delano.
Delano eventually got out, but his freedom didn’t last long.
When he failed to notify his probation officer that he had moved, his sentence was revoked and he was ordered to serve the full four years in prison.
At the lowest point in his life, a female employee at the prison encouraged Delano to file for clemency.
“When I got denied back then, it hurt, I wondered how can I get back to my family,” said Delano.
He eventually appealed his sentence and, after hearing the unique circumstances, the sentencing review board approved his release.
“After that I just had to register as a sex offender,” said Delano.
While freedom was a relief, the burden of the title “sex offender” was heavy.
“If you didn’t know our story and you looked it up, you’d go look she’s with a rapist,” said Amber.
The family said they’ve even received harassing emails from a man who found Delano on the sex offender registry.
During our interview, the brothers and sister of Austin jokingly called him “evidence.”
“Because my dad got charged with rape for me, for being with my mom, when he didn’t rape her,” said Austin.
The family of six built a new life, one that centered on faith. But that past – continued to haunt them.
“Back in 2012, my wife had tried to become a daycare provider,” said Delano. “The state shut her down. They told her she could do it, but not in the same household I live in.”
After 17 years, Amber had had enough.
“I guess when you get slapped in the face so many times, you finally stand up and fight back,” said Amber.
She made countless calls to the Governor’s office and sent letters, seeking relief from anyone who would listen.
“Months went by, she called a couple times and finally – she got the news,” said Delano. “But it wasn’t the news we all wanted.”
Then, in 2015, convicted killer Barry Beach walked out of the state prison in Deer Lodge a free man, thanks to a new law granting the governor the power of clemency.
“By this time, I was pretty for certain that God was moving,” said Delano. “I didn’t know it was going to be such a long haul even from there.”
Years went by without any good news.
But just three weeks ago, Amber had a dream.
“It was so distinct, ‘You’ll get your pardon on a Tuesday, you’ll get your pardon on a Tuesday,’” said Amber.
On Tuesday, April 25, Amber received a call from the governor’s office.
“And she just said ‘I just called to let you know that the governor signed the pardon and you guys are forgiven,’” said Amber. “And then I just started crying because holy cow, finally after all this time.”
“I haven’t even honestly – I’ve wept, but I haven’t sobbed yet,” said Delano. “It’s still catching up to me.”
After years of fighting, pouring heart and soul into righting this wrong, the couple’s tears have all but run dry.
The couple’s daughter Lylie was born after the hardest years, but in her 15 years, she knows how much her family has gone through.
“It makes me happy to see that they’re still together and they made it through that,” said Lylie. “And that we’re still a great family and stay together.”
Gov. Steve Bullock recently signed Senate Bill 26 to create a provision for statutory rape, creating a much less severe punishment for young couples under the age of consent.
MTN’s Aja Goare