After more than five years in jail, Jerry Hobbs III was set free with a single spoken sentence.
"The state moves to nolle pros (drop prosecution) in this cause," Lake County Deputy State's Attorney Jeff Pavletic told circuit judge Fred Foreman at a brief hearing Wednesday morning.
Hobbs, 39, had been charged with the May 2005 murders of his daughter Laura Hobbs, 8, and her friend Krystal Tobias, 9, but that changed with the discovery of a DNA match to another man in police custody in another state.
The case against Hobbs collapsed, and Pavletic dropped the first-degree murder charges.
Hobbs' defense attorneys offered no objection, and Hobbs, who had been held without bail since the day after the girls' bodies were discovered in a Zion park, was led out of the courtroom.
He showed no emotion when the announcement was made, and was hurried out of the courthouse by public defenders without addressing the media.
Assistant Public Defender Keith Grant said Hobbs was planning to move out of state and was being driven to Texas following his release from the Lake County jail. There was no response to phone calls seeking comment from Hobbs' mother in Wichita Falls, Texas, or from the Tobias family in Zion.
The defense team said Hobbs' release was made possible in large part because of the Capital Litigation Trust Fund, established in 2005 as part of the comprehensive reform of Illinois death penalty cases.
Grant said the fund provided the money for the extensive evidence testing in the case that developed the DNA profile that led to Hobbs' freedom.
"If there is a ray of sunshine in this matter, it is the trust fund," Grant said. "Our office would have never had the resources to do the type of investigation that we did and that needed to be done in this case without the assistance of the trust fund."
In a news conference after the hearing, State's Attorney Michael Waller would not say he was convinced Hobbs had no role in the murders of the girls, only that he believed he could not prove the case against Hobbs beyond a reasonable doubt.
Waller said he "may be able to address that issue at a later date," presumably if and when a case is built against the man whose DNA was found on Laura Hobbs' body, and Jerry Hobbs is no longer subject to being recharged in the case.
"The priority at this point is holding somebody responsible for these murders," he said. "We're working as quickly as we can."
Hobbs was charged with the murders of Laura Hobbs and Tobias based on his confession that he had killed the girls, Waller said. Police said Hobbs confessed orally, signed a written summary of the confession they prepared, then read that summary while being videotaped.
Grant later said Hobbs' confession was false and was the only evidence police had to charge him.
"I don't know why Jerry signed a statement," Grant said. "... Coercion takes many forms, and there was more than one single aspect why Jerry signed."
Waller said the detectives who investigated Hobbs did nothing wrong, and he noted Foreman found their testimonies valid in court hearings.
"We will review all the procedures of the case and determine if we need to do things differently," he said.
Grant said he believed the justice system failed Hobbs, who sat five years in jail "charged for a crime he did not commit." When the state seeks the death penalty, there should be "100 percent certainty" the right person is charged, he said.
"If we are going to seek the ultimate punishment, we must do the ultimate investigation," Grant said.
He said Hobbs was glad to be out of jail, and his goal is to seek justice for his daughter.
"Jerry has never been anything other than a grieving father," Grant said. "He lost his daughter, he lost his family, he lost everything.
"He's hoping, I'm hoping, that this is going to be a new start."
Jerry Hobbs timeline
May 8, 2005: Laura Hobbs, 8, and Krystal Tobais, 9, are reported missing to Zion police by their parents.
May 9, 2005: After an all-night search by family, friends and police, Jerry Hobbs III discovers the bodies of the two girls in a heavily-wooded area of Beulah Park in Zion. Hobbs agrees to go to the police station for questioning a few hours later.
May 10, 2005: Hobbs is charged with first-degree murder after police say he confessed to killing the girls when he became enraged when Laura would not return to the family home with him.
Nov. 2, 2005: Prosecutors announce they will seek the death penalty for Hobbs if he is convicted in the slayings.
Oct. 20, 2006: Circuit Judge Fred Foreman rules that Hobbs' confession to the crime was legally obtained and that it can be used against him at trial.
Nov. 18, 2008: Defense attorneys for Hobbs request his release on bond because of an expert's opinion that DNA found on Laura Hobbs does not match their client.
Dec. 2, 2008: Foreman rejects the request for bond, saying he is not persuaded that the DNA results clear Hobbs in the crime.
June 25, 2010: The numeric signature of the DNA sample, entered into the FBI's national data base of DNA samples, matches a man taken into police custody and accused of violent crimes in another state in March.
Aug. 4, 2010: Charges in the case against Hobbs, who has been held without bond since his arrest, are dropped and he is released from custody.