Justin Boulay, 33, served half of his 24-year sentence at Danville Correctional Center. He was convicted in the 1998 murder of Andrea Faye Will, a student at Eastern Illinois University. Will's friends and family are outraged that he was released after only 12 years in prison due to good behavior.
Boulay was imprisoned when state law allowed inmates to cut their sentences by a day for every day of good behavior. Laws now require violent criminals to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.
Boulay was released into the custody of his wife, whom he married while in prison. The couple dated as teens then married three years ago while he was behind bars. The two plan to live in Hawaii where she works, despite efforts by Hawaiian prosecutors to block the move.
"It just seems like he got away and like I said his picture looks like he's snickering, like 'Ha ha, I got away. I only served 12 years. I'm 33. I get out and I get to have a wife. I get to live in Hawaii. I have the possibility of having kids. I can put this all behind me.' Her family can't. We can't," said Laura Glombowski, victim's friend.
"He had four and a half minutes to choose to stop while he was strangling the life out of her and he didn't," said Michelle Felde, victim's college roommate.
Boulay was released from prison on Tuesday at 8 a.m. He was escorted by law enforcement vehicles because death threats have been made against him, prison officials said. His wife, Rachel Rivers, wore a hood a scarf as she drove the car. She is an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Hawaii Medical School.
For Boulay, it's a fresh start at a new life, something his ex-girlfriend's loved ones say he never afforded her.
"It's difficult. She never got to experience it, she was just beginning to experience her life ... and it ended," said Glombowski. "It's enough of him. It's about her now and let her speak and let her live in our memories."
Felde says she and Will spoke often about Boulay's controlling behavior.
"He was abusive towards her and that is part of the reason why she left, and we want to bring awareness to domestic violence. If you are in a situation that is unhealthy and unsafe, if somebody is putting their hands on you, to confide in somebody you trust and get help and get out," said Felde.
More than two dozens vigils were planned in honor of Will, including one at the University of Hawaii and one at Eastern Illinois University in Batavia.
At the Batavia vigil, Will's friends and family chose to focus on her life, not on the man who is getting a second chance to live his.
"She was my only sister and my best friend," said Jessica Will-McCabe, victim's sister.
"My child is gone, but her spirit lives on in her family, her friends and in all those burning a candle in her memory," said Patricia Rosenberg, victim's mother.
"I can't even describe the feeling that you feel when you hear he's getting out of jail. Twelve years for a life," said Amanda Gillette, victim's childhood friend.
"She'll never be able to fall in love and meet the man of her dreams and get married and have children ... and that's all stuff he gets to do and he took that right away from her," said Michelle Sojka, victim's childhood friend.
Boulay will be on parole for three years and under the jurisdiction of the Hawaii parole division. One of the conditions is that he must undergo anger management.