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Freed Inmate Fights Prosecutors For 'Certificate Of Innocence'

CHICAGO (CBS) – If he thought true freedom came with his release after 24 years, he was wrong.

CBS 2's Brad Edwards reports on a man who is out of prison but shackled by a record that may not  be cleared, after all.

In May 2012, James Kluppelberg stood under the sun for the first time a free man in more than two decades. Ten months later, he's unemployed with little hope.

"I don't know what to do, what way to go, what is up, what is down," Kluppelberg says.  "It's still very confusing."

He was convicted of setting a 1984 fire in Chicago that killed six people.  The Cook County State's Attorney's office pushed for his release after witnesses recanted and their own experts re-examination deemed the fire investigation "unreliable" and "no longer supportable."

Since his release, Kluppelberg's fought for a Certificate of Innocence.

"It will give me my life back," he explains.

But, it's now being contested by the very state's attorney's office that pushed for his release.

"It's shocking," Kluppelberg says. "How could they fight this after fighting to release me?"

"Can we retry the case and convict him? No," says Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for state's attorney Anita Alvarez.  "Can we say he's completely innocent?  We don't feel we have sufficient evidence to say that."

So now it's now up to a judge. A hearing is slated for late March.

"I will not give them the satisfaction of giving up until I'm clean," Kluppelberg says.

He says he applied and has been rejected from "hundreds" of jobs.  After all, six murder convictions are still on his record; a Certificate of Innocence would eliminate that.  His saving grace is his son – a toddler he didn't see for 24 years of wrongful imprisonment. He is now a grown man that has taken his father in.

"He turned out wonderful, he really did," Kluppelberg, choking back emotion, says. "The whole idea of having children is being there for them."

That was something he wasn't for 24 years.

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