A judge on Monday dismissed murder and robbery charges first filed in 1993 against a mentally retarded defendant, ordering his release from a state hospital after 14 years in custody without a trial.

Floyd Brown, a 43-year-old Anson County man with an IQ of 50, was charged in the death and robbery of 80-year-old Katherine Lynch, who was found beaten to death in 1993. He was found at the time to be incompetent to stand trial, and has remained in state custody at Dorothea Dix Hospital ever since as prosecutors refused to drop the case against him.

"Somehow, it is possible for him to be held until he dies," said Durham County Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson. "To me, it doesn't seem right."

Brown's attorneys filed a writ of habeas corpus seeking his release last month. Monday's hearing before Hudson marked the first time Brown's case was heard outside of Anson County, located southeast of Charlotte on the South Carolina border.

"The system we looked to to protect him just failed. Anybody who looked could see he didn't do it, but nobody cared," said Brown's sister, Frances Staton. "The 14 years are gone. I can't bring them back. The main thing now is, he's free."