DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - "You're free to walk out of this courtroom today."
Those were the words said just minutes ago to Dale Lincoln Duke. The Dallas County judge set Duke free after he'd served 14 years in prison, for a crime he did not commit.
Ironically, it was Duke's insistence of innocence that lead to his incarceration. Originally he had been sentenced to probation and counseling for molesting his then 7-year-old stepdaughter, but he was kicked out of a sex offender treatment program and sent to prison, because he would not admit he had committed the crime.
Friday Duke said he does not hold any bitterness toward his accuser and is glad that she recanted her story.
"I felt kind of sorry for her because I understood where she was coming from and I really want to thank her for coming out and saying it – telling the truth," Duke said.
But Duke does think someone is at fault. He blames his stepdaughter's aunt for fabricating the story. "I'm more bitter toward the lady that incited her [his stepdaughter]," he said.
Duke said he worked hard to stay optimistic during his years behind bars. "There's always hope… got to be hope. Sometimes it takes longer than others, but at least it does work."
Officials in Dallas have worked diligently to overturn false convictions, but Duke's case is a rarity in that it didn't hinge on DNA.
The Dallas County District Attorney's office recently uncovered evidence that prosecutors knew in 1998 there were problems with the case -- but withheld the evidence from defense attorneys and worked to keep Duke behind bars.
Thursday the Dallas County District Attorney's Office extended an apology to Duke. "This is just the first step of making it right and saying, 'Look, we are sorry for what an ordeal you have gone through'," said Dallas DA Craig Watkins.
Duke has been declared innocent and his criminal record wiped clean. Since evidence was withheld he is now also eligible for up to $2 million in restitution.
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