LOS ANGELES – Andrew Leander Wilson, a broad smile on his face and no bitterness in his heart, clasped hands with his family on his first day of freedom after spending 32 years in prison for a murder he denied committing.
Wilson, 62, was released from the Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail downtown into a sea of cameras and cheers and applause from university law students who worked to free him.
"This is unbelievable. This is unbelievable," Wilson said Thursday.
Wilson maintained his innocence since his arrest in 1984 for the stabbing death of Christopher Hanson, 21, in Los Angeles.
A day earlier, Superior Court Judge Laura Priver ordered Wilson released after prosecutors conceded he did not get a fair trial.
Wilson said his 96-year-old mother, Margie Davis, who lives in St. Louis, was his fiercest advocate.
"My mother was the backbone," Wilson said. "She was a 96-year-old pit bull."
He plans to go to St. Louis to visit her as soon as he can, and his mother says she can't believe she's going to see him after three decades.
"I prayed for what I thought was the impossible," Davis told KABC-TV by phone. "I prayed for his release. And evidently it wasn't impossible. It's been granted me."
Loyola Law School's Project for the Innocent, which fought for Wilson's release, pointed to numerous due-process violations.
"It's been a nightmare but I survived and got to the end of the road," Wilson said.
Wearing a red Loyola shirt, Wilson held hands with his sister and daughter. His 15-year-old granddaughter was by their sides.
Wilson said he holds no bitterness because that would be "a waste of time."
"Believe it or not, I think I'm all right upstairs," he said, drawing laughter from his family members.
"I still have a parent," Wilson's daughter, Catrina Burks, 43, of Muskegon, Michigan.
"It's been a long 32 years and I'm glad that it's over...I stayed hopeful all the way," said Gwen Wilson, 49, of Inglewood, California.
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 said.
Asked what he thought of his prosecutor, he said, "I'm past it. I just want to go get something to eat right now and love my family."
If he didn't eat soon, "I'm going to eat my shoes," Wilson joked.
Paula Mitchell, Wilson's lawyer, said before the hearing that numerous due-process violations recently came to light that showed Wilson did not receive a fair trial.
She pointed particularly to a weekslong delay before police began canvassing for suspects with Hanson's girlfriend, Saladena Bishop, who was 17 at the time. Bishop was the prosecution's only eyewitness.
Among missteps by the prosecution was the suppression of evidence that Bishop previously filed a false police report accusing another man of rape, according to court papers filed by Mitchell and other attorneys with Loyola Law School's Project for the Innocent.
The district attorney's office said it would not retry Wilson. Another hearing was set for May 3 to begin the process to determine whether he is factually innocent, which could lead to compensation claims.