Thirty-year-old Jonathan Moore woke up Tuesday morning as a prisoner at the downstate Menard Correctional Center facing a projected parole date of 2057.
Later in the day, he walked out of the Kane County Judicial Center in St. Charles with his uncle as a free man.
Kane County authorities vacated his conviction for a 2000 murder in Aurora and admitted they sent the wrong man to prison.
Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon and Aurora Police Chief Greg Thomas said the decision to free Moore, of Aurora, and reopen the case into the shooting death of Shawn Miller, 20, of Montgomery, was made after a witness came forward last year with details about the crime unknown to the public.
Both agencies completed an investigation, interviewing more witnesses and original witnesses, and the result cast doubt on Moore's guilt.
"As state's attorney, I must strike a balance between my responsibility to see that valid convictions are upheld and my duty to assess new information that may cast serious doubts about those convictions," McMahon said. "Nobody wants to see the guilty go free, but it is just as important that those who are not guilty do not sit in prison. Finding that balance can pose one of the biggest challenges I face."
Added Thomas: "When new information came to light, we were duly bound to follow up."
McMahon said the decision was about finding the truth and ensuring justice is served.
"We have done our best to honestly and objectively review this case, not necessarily from an adversarial stance, but rather to be neutral and objective. In this case, we invested both time and resources long after Mr. Moore's conviction and his appeal rights were exhausted," he said.
Moore, who was not available for comment Tuesday, was 19 when he was charged with gunning down Miller about 5:45 a.m. Aug. 24, 2000, outside a Laundromat. A 17-year-old from Chicago was also shot and paralyzed in what authorities called a gang-related shooting.
A jury convicted Moore in August 2002 of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder and other charges, and he was sentenced to 75 years in prison.
Authorities said two witnesses identified Moore as the shooter and he gave police conflicting accounts on where he was that morning.
An appellate court declined to reverse the verdict but reduced the sentence to 70 years in 2004.
Attorneys from the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project at the University of Illinois-Springfield represented Moore after Aurora police and Kane County prosecutors revisited the case.
John Hanlon, the project's legal director, accompanied Moore to court Tuesday morning. Hanlon said Moore was grateful for the help he received.
"He wasn't at the crime scene. He's fully exonerated. Now his task is to adjust to society," Hanlon said. "The credit for this primarily goes to Mr. McMahon and his office and the Aurora Police Department. They are to be highly, highly praised. If what we're talking about is justice, there's no question that justice was served."
McMahon, Thomas and Hanlon declined to elaborate on what may have brought the new witness forward or other specifics about new information in the case. They said the investigation to find Miller's killer is open and ongoing.
Anyone with information about the murder should call Aurora police at (630) 256-5500 or Aurora Crime Stoppers at (630) 892-1000.