DALLAS — A Texas man who spent more than 15 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of kidnapping and robbery raised both arms skyward and collapsed in his mother's embrace Thursday after being told he was a free man.
Patrick Waller's sobs were the only sound at a crowded hearing attended by four former inmates also exonerated by DNA testing.
"It's all right, honey," Patricia Cunningham told her son. "It's over. You're out of here. You're going home."
Waller had been behind bars since 1992 after being convicted of aggravated robbery and aggravated kidnapping in the abduction of a Dallas couple. He was proved innocent by DNA testing late last year.
"I feel vindicated," said Waller, 38. "I feel thankful. Most of all, I feel blessed."
His release had been all but certain since last week, when the Dallas County prosecutor's office announced that DNA evidence had cleared Waller and matched the profile of another man.
That suspect identified his accomplice, and both men subsequently confessed in front of a grand jury, prosecutors said.
Neither man is in prison, although one is on parole, and they won't face criminal charges because the statute of limitations has expired.
Waller is the 19th man in Dallas County since 2001 to be exonerated by DNA evidence of the crime for which he was convicted. That's more than any other county in the nation, according to the Innocence Project in New York, a legal center specializing in wrongful-conviction cases.
Four former inmates who collectively served nearly 100 years in prison before being exonerated lined the back wall of the crowded courtroom.
The men have made a habit of showing up in court for exoneration hearings, and on Thursday they presented Waller with a prepaid cellphone as a gift.
Their exoneration stories helped Waller during his incarceration.
"All these guys I just met, I have all their clippings," Waller said. "It always gave me hope that one day it would be my turn."