Texas' highest criminal court formally ruled Wednesday that a Houston man who was freed earlier this year after spending 27 years in prison for a rape he did not commit is innocent.
In its brief opinion, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with a lower court's recommendation that Michael Anthony Green be ruled innocent and that his conviction be set aside.
"After reading it, I almost cried. I was so happy," Green said.
The 44-year-old was released from prison in July after the Harris County District Attorney's Office reopened his case and new DNA tests it commissioned showed he did not commit the 1983 rape of a woman who had been abducted. Green was freed on a $500 bond while he waited for the ruling on his innocence.
He said that after being released, he had tried not to think about when the decision might come. But each week, he said, he kept telling himself, "Let it be this one, let it be this one."
Green, who now works as a paralegal for his attorney, Bob Wicoff, learned about the ruling when he came into the office on Wednesday. A copy of the opinion was taped to the back of a chair, the first thing Green sees when he walks into Wicoff's office.
"I had the opinion ready for him when he walked in. He was happy to see it," Wicoff said.
Wednesday's ruling allows Green to apply for compensation from the state for being wrongfully imprisoned, Wicoff said. State law provides $80,000 for every year a person is wrongfully incarcerated, making Green eligible for more than $2 million.
Wicoff said Green also plans to apply for a pardon based on actual innocence from Gov. Rick Perry.
In 1983, four men abducted a woman from a pay telephone in north Houston, taking her to a remote location where three of them raped her. The men drove off, leaving the woman there, and were later chased by police. The men abandoned their car and fled on foot. Green was detained by officers that night as he walked in the area.
The victim could not identify Green in person but later picked him from a photo lineup. Green was convicted of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced to 75 years in prison.
He was the only person convicted in the case. Green was 18 when he entered prison.
His case was one of the first looked at by the Harris County District Attorney's Office's newly formed Post-Conviction Review Section. The review team found the only remaining evidence in the case _ clothing worn by the victim during the rape _ and had it tested. The results excluded Green.
Authorities were able to identify the four men who abducted the women. But because the statute of limitations on the rape has run out, they cannot be prosecuted.
Green said he plans to continue working on a volunteer basis with Wicoff, helping him go through letters that inmates send about problems _ DNA-related and otherwise _ they say they have with their cases.
"I want to do this for as long as I can do it," Green said.