When President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union Address Tuesday night, several Connecticut residents will be in the audience.
From the governor, to a man falsely sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, they'll get the chance to hear the president give his last state of the union address in person.
“It was emotional. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would get a call like that," James Tillman said of the invitation he received from Congressman John Larson.
Tillman made headlines nearly a decade ago when he was exonerated by DNA evidence after spending 18 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit.
Tillman’s story spurred newly passed legislation, co-sponsored by Congressman John Larson, that prevents the government from taxing compensation paid to those wrongly convicted.
“It means that the government cares. Things happen and the government is trying to make a wrong into a right and it helps," Tillman said.
Dr. Mohammad Qureshi, president of the Ahmadia Muslim Community, was equally surprised when he received an invitation from Congressman Joe Courtney.
“I couldn’t believe myself. It was really an honor," Qureshi said.
His Meriden mosque was hit by bullets after the terrorist attacks in Paris and California last year and the FBI is investigating the incident as a hate crime.
“I think our conduct after the incident must have triggered this maybe," Qureshi said. “The feedback has been overwhelming. The support I’m getting from everybody is overwhelming.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who will sit near the First Lady for the State of the Union Address as her guest, has had a deep connection with the president ever since the tragic Sandy Hook school shootings.
“I think Newtown changed the president in many ways," Malloy said.
The president has championed Malloy’s efforts on gun control, but, the governor believes the state has made strides in other ways that have gained the president’s attention.
“It’s recognition that we’ve done a number of things. First state to pass a minimum wage of $10.10, first state to pass paid sick days," Malloy said. “There’s a lot of good things that Connecticut is doing and it’s nice to be recognized.”
New Britain Police Chief James Wardwell will also be a guest of U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-5). The congresswoman announced that she and former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords will sit together during the address.
“It has been five years since the tragic attack in Tucson and three years since the tragedy in Sandy Hook, and yet Congress has still not taken up commonsense gun violence prevention reforms,” said Esty, who is also Vice Chair on the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. “I am proud to join my friend, Gabby, who has dedicated herself to public service. From Newtown and Hartford, to Tucson and Charleston, Chicago and Colorado Spring, Americans are demanding action to enhance criminal background checks and improve access to mental health services.”
Giffords' husband, Capt. Mark Kelly is expected to accompany her and sit with them in the House gallery for the president's final State of the Union.
“I am honored to join so many of my former colleagues and Congresswoman Esty at the State of the Union address. Congresswoman Esty is a true champion for common sense in the fight for making our communities safer from gun violence. Both Congresswoman Esty and I know all too well the impact of gun tragedies on our communities and our constituents. We share a bond no elected representative ever wants to share. It is a club you never want to belong to,” Giffords said in a statement. “But the truth is that gun tragedies befall every congressional district and every community in our nation. Gun violence knows no bounds. That’s why it’s so fitting and powerful that one seat in the First Lady’s State of the Union Guest Box will be left empty to honor the victims of gun violence. The Americans represented by that empty seat no longer have a voice. And we must be their voice.”
Watch the State of the Union Address on NBC Tuesday at 9 p.m.