Wearing a broad smile and a Maroon Loyola Law School T-shirt, Andrew Leander Wilson emerged a free man for the first time in 32 years on Thursday, after serving time for a murder he says he never committed.
Clasping the hands of his daughter and sister, he walked through the doors of the Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail into a sea of cameras and the applause of a group of law students who worked to free him.
But despite his more than three decades behind bars, Mr. Wilson had a message: He harbored no bitterness toward the system or people that testified against him. It would be "a waste of time," he said.
Superior Court Judge Laura Priver ordered Wilson’s release on Wednesday after the prosecutors conceded he did not get a fair trial for the 1984 robbery and stabbing murder of Christopher Hanson, who was 21 at the time.
"Believe it or not, I think I'm all right upstairs," he said, adding that his mother Margie Davis of St. Louis had been his most strident advocate during his three decades behind bars.
"My mother was the backbone," Wilson said. "She was a 96-year-old pit bull."
Ms. Davis told Davis told KABC-TV by phone: "I prayed for what I thought was the impossible."
"I prayed for his release. And evidently it wasn't impossible. It's been granted me."
Back outside the jail, Wilson’s daughter, Catrina Burks, who was 10 years old when her father was convicted, said he’d been a “great father” despite their separation.
"I still have a parent," she said jubilantly. "He's a great man. Even though he's been behind bars all this time, he's been a great father. So kind."
She got a letter from prison every birthday, and he often called to speak with her children, The Los Angeles Times reported.
"It's been a long 32 years and I'm glad that it's over.... I stayed hopeful all the way," said his sister, Gwen Wilson.
She was 14 when her brother was sent to prison.
"It was scary because it is my brother and he would never come back; that's what I thought in the moment," she told the Associated Press.
In working to free him, Loyola Law School's Los Angeles Project for the Innocent pointed to numerous due process violations. For example, that prosecutors suppressed evidence showing Mr. Hanson’s girlfriend at the time and the only eyewitness in the murder, Saladena Bishop, had previously filed a false police report about a rape by another man.
Although the district attorney’s office said it still believes Wilson was involved in the murder, it has no plans to refile charges.
Wilson will appear at another hearing set for May 3 to establish whether he is factually innocent, which could lead to compensation claims.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.