A Kansas man who served more than 15 years of a life sentence for the 1999 shooting death of his sister-in-law was freed Tuesday after a judge overturned his conviction when new evidence implicated the man's brother as the likely killer.

Floyd Bledsoe, 39, broke into a broad grin after Jefferson County District Court Judge Gary Nafziger, who presided over his murder trial and sentencing, announced "the defendant is to be released."

The decision came after a Jefferson County Sheriff's investigator testified that Bledsoe's brother, Thomas, killed himself last month after DNA evidence implicated him in the death of 14-year-old Camille Arfmann. Thomas Bledsoe left behind suicide letters admitting he killed the girl.

Prosecutor Jason Belveal said it's unlikely that he will continue pursuing the case.

Minutes after the decision was announced, a Jefferson County jailer removed Bledsoe's shackles, drawing applause from his supporters in the courtroom. Bledsoe appeared overwhelmed and struggled for words.

"I'm just grateful" and "glad this day is here," he said, adding his immediate plans were "to get out of the courtroom." He was then ushered away by his attorneys.

Thomas Bledsoe initially confessed, then recanted and blamed his brother, who always maintained his innocence. Floyd Bledsoe was convicted of first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated indecent liberties. Thomas Bledsoe testified at Floyd Bledsoe's trial.

Arfmann was last seen as she stepped off her school bus at the home in Oskaloosa, about 45 miles west of Kansas City, that she shared with Floyd Bledsoe, her sister and their two children. Her body was discovered three days later in a trash ditch near the home of the Bledsoes' parents. She had been shot four times.

Attorneys with the Project for Innocence and Post-Conviction Remedies at the University of Kansas argued on Floyd Bledsoe's behalf that a new report showed sperm from Arfmann's body likely belonged to Tom Bledsoe.

Thomas Bledsoe died in apparent suicide last month, just weeks after the DNA results were made public.