-- After spending nearly 25 years behind bars for a brutal crime he didn't commit, Tony Wright is a free man.
The Philadelphia resident was just 20 years old when he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the rape and stabbing of a neighbor more than two decades ago. Wright, now 44, walked out of prison Tuesday with his arms raised in the air. He held hands with his attorneys and members of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization based in New York City.
"Unbelievable, unbelievable, man. Best feeling in the world, man. I never felt like this in my entire life," Wright told ABC affiliate WPVI-TV in Philadelphia. "We did it, I mean today is our day."
Lawyers with the Innocent Project secured DNA evidence that showed Wright was not the one who committed the 1991 rape of his neighbor, 77-year-old Louise Talley. Still, the district attorney’s office in Philadelphia decided to take Wright's case to trial again in 2014. On Tuesday, after deliberating for more than an hour, a jury found him not guilty, acquitting him of the rape and murder.
"We are extremely relieved that this very long nightmare is finally over for Mr. Wright and his family," Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, said in a statement. "But it’s outrageous that he has been forced to endure a retrial to gain his freedom after DNA testing already proved his innocence."
In a statement obtained by ABC News on Wednesday, Cameron Kline, spokesperson for the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, said: "The jury made a finding and the District Attorney's Office respects their hard work."
"The District Attorney's Office stands by its decision to retry Anthony Wright, based on the totality of the evidence," Kline continued. "The verdict only shows that the jury did not find that his guilt was proven beyond a reasonable doubt."
Wright narrowly escaped the death penalty at his original trial by a 7 to 5 vote of the jury. At the re-trial, DNA tests revealed that the clothing police had alleged was worn by Wright to commit the crime was actually not his and could not have been in his home as authorities had claimed, according to the Innocence Project.
"We are relieved that justice has prevailed and Mr. Wright has been given back his life," attorney Samuel Silver of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP, co-counsel for Wright and board member of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, said in a statement.
Wright’s new-found freedom comes just in time for his 45th birthday this weekend.
"I want to do whatever my granddaughters want to do. I want to do whatever my grandson wants to do," he told WPVI on Tuesday. "I just want to be grandpa. I just want to be dad."
Anthony Wright Jr., Wright's 28-year-old son, told WPVI-TV that he can't wait for his father to come home, "It’s going to be an explosion of excitement and love."
"My children get to have their grandfather," he added. "I get to have my father that I didn’t get to see outside the prison walls and bars, since I was two years old."
"There’s so much that we’ve missed that we've got to catch up on," Wright Jr. said, including football games and the "growth of my daughters."