"It was a real turmoil. It was hard to accept," Green tells Russ Mitchell on The Early Show. "But after a while, I tended to accept the situation that I was in. I tried to make the best of it."
Thanks to a mother who was convinced he was innocent, the persevering work of his stepfather and the help of the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal firm in New York, he is now free and helping others.
"What's really extraordinary about this case," Barry Sheck of Innocence Project says, "is that after Michael got out of prison, the Cleveland Plain Dealer did an article called, "The Burden Of Innocence" by a journalist called Connie Schultz. They put Michael's picture, handsome guy, right in the paper. And the real perpetrator read this article, and the guy came forward and confessed to the crime. And then, when he pled guilty and was sentenced, who showed up to ask he gets the minimum because at least he did come forward to try to clear his name? Michael Green."
Sheck also says that Green accepted a smaller award than he deserved when he sued Joseph Serowik, the person who did the analysis of the hair and the serology in his criminal case, for incompetence. Moreover, he used part of the awards he received from civil suits to create the Anthony Michael Green Forensic Laboratory Audit in the city of Cleveland.
"As we speak today," Sheck says, "they're reviewing 16 years worth of cases to see if we can find other problems."
Green's mother knew all along her son was innocent, her husband Robert Mandell, says. "I did make the statement to her that all mothers thought their children are innocent. Well, that didn't go over too well," he said, adding that she prompted him to re-examine the case. Mandell had just graduated from paralegal studies.
Green, known as "Michael", was wrongfully convicted of robbery and rape at a hospital where he had been employed when he was 22 years old. The woman who accused him picked him out of a lineup and said her assailant's name was "Tony." Green never went by the name Tony. Based on the eyewitness' testimony (which was later found to be spurious), and a blood type on a washcloth that matched Green's, he was sentenced to 20-50 years in prison for rape and robbery.
"It took me almost three years to find it," Mandell says, referring to the washcloth. "That was the frustrating part about it because there were so many dead ends that I had to go through. But only through perseverance and the true belief that my son was innocent just kept me going day by day."
For Green, it was "trusting and believing in God - knowing that one day I will prove my innocence."
"It was almost surreal," Mandell says recalling the time when he found the key evidence. "I was in this basement of a courthouse building there in Cleveland. And this box that the law clerk and intern found in the summertime, he brought it up. It had cobwebs on it. It had dirt. He said, 'Mr. Mandell, you think maybe this is it?' I said, 'I hope so.' When I opened the box up, it was just like lights went off.
"But the only fear I had after that was how could I protect it? I know I have it, but that's when the Innocence Project got hold of them. I found it, but what do I do now? And that's when they came in," Mandell explains.
There are thousands of Michael Greens, Sheck says. "The problem is that most cases, we just can't find the evidence. We don't have Bob running around there; 75 percent of the time we can't find it."
Today, Green says, "It's been a struggle, trying to readjust."
When he heard the news he was to be released, he says, "I literally felt like a ton of bricks has been lifted off of me. It was weight down. And when I found out that the evidence had cleared my name, it was like I just felt the flow."