Obie Anthony, 37, collapsed into the arms of family members, who screamed and cried as he walked out of a downtown Los Angeles jail.
Anthony, who spent his incarceration reading self-help books, said he always believed he would be released and struggled to express his emotions about his newfound freedom.
“It’s really overwhelming at this point,” said Anthony. “It’s going to take a couple of days before everything really sets all the way in.”
Anthony was convicted of fatally shooting a man outside a South Los Angeles brothel in a 1995 trial and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. But last Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kelvin D. Filer overturned Anthony’s conviction after determining that the prosecution’s star witness, a pimp, lied to the jury.
The 1994 shooting death was featured prominently in “The Killing Season,” a book about two Los Angeles Police Department homicide detectives by former Los Angeles Times reporter Miles Corwin.
Anthony said he wasn’t at the scene and has maintained his innocence. His case drew the attention of students with the Project for the Innocent at Loyola Law School who worked with the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University School of Law.
After 3 1/2 years of research that included visiting the crime scene and re-interviewing witnesses, an evidentiary hearing was held in September.
Laurie Levenson, director of the Project for the Innocent, said the pimp has since retracted his testimony and said he never saw the shooter.
Anthony thanked his legal team for “coming to my rescue” and vowed by pay it forward by helping others who are wrongfully convicted.
Levenson called Anthony’s release her “greatest moment ever.”
“I’m so happy for Obie,” she said, then turning to him. “Obie, have a wonderful life.”
Despite being locked up for most of his adult life, Anthony said he didn’t harbor any anger and believed the justice system worked.
“I knew from the very beginning that justice will come,” he said. “I never once wavered in my faith.”
Anthony admitted he had a lot to learn about the world including learning about technology that didn’t exist when he went to jail. On his to-do list as a free man: Attend a Los Angeles Lakers game, eat a real meal and start a life with his fiancee Denise Merchant.
Merchant and Anthony have known each other since they were teenagers, but didn’t start dating until 3 1/2 years ago. They became engaged 1 1/2 years ago during a jailhouse visit in which Anthony got down on one knee to propose with a ring that she bought.
“It was nice and sweet,” said Merchant, who wore a T-shirt bearing Anthony’s face.
After posing for a few pictures with his legal team, Anthony and his family walked to the parking garage across the street trailed by television crews and news photographers.