Mobster Vincent "The Animal" Ferrara (search) was freed from federal custody Thursday after a judge cut short his prison sentence, ruling that prosecutors may have coerced him into confessing to a murder he didn't commit.

As he left the U.S. Marshal's Office, Ferrara hugged friends and relatives and held his daughter Bianca's hand. He spoke to reporters briefly, saying he felt "vindicated" and that the first thing he would do is visit his 90-year-old mother.

"I really am not feeling anything other than a great deal of gratitude to my attorneys and to my family, who've been very supportive for all these years," Ferrara said.

The 56-year-old former capo in the New England Mafia (search) served about 16 years of a 22-year sentence after pleading guilty to racketeering and other charges. Among the crimes he admitted to was ordering the 1985 murder of Vincent Limoli (search), a mob foot soldier who allegedly stole drugs from another mobster.

Ferrara's attorney, Martin Weinberg, said Ferrara was innocent, but confessed to the murder to avoid a possible life sentence.

U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf threw out the sentence after finding evidence that prosecutors withheld a police memo in which a government witness recanted testimony implicating Ferrara. Earlier this month, he ordered Ferrara freed.

The U.S. Attorney's Office argued that Ferrara intended to resume his life of crime, but a federal appeals court on Wednesday rejected prosecutors' attempt to keep him locked up.

His brother, Philip LaMonaca, met Ferrara at the courthouse and said he wouldn't return to his old ways.

"He's done some things wrong. He admits it," LaMonaca said. "But he's changed his life. ... He's going to do the right thing."