Jerry Miller smiled and the courtroom erupted into cheers after Cook County Circuit Court Judge Diane G. Cannon read the ruling that cleared him of all charges.
Miller, 48, had been found guilty of rape, robbery, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated battery even though he testified he was at home watching television at the time of the 1981 attack. He was paroled in March 2006 and now works two jobs and lives with a family member in a Chicago suburb.
"I will get on with my life, start a life, have a life," Miller said at a news conference after the hearing. "I'm just thankful for this day."
The Innocence Project, a New York-based group, had persuaded prosecutors last year to conduct DNA tests on a semen sample taken from the rape victim's clothes. Those results excluded Miller as the attacker.
The case is the 200th in the United States in which a person was convicted and later exonerated based on DNA evidence, the group says. The first exonerations based on DNA testing were in 1989, and in all, the 200 defendants served about 2,475 years in prison for crimes they didn't commit, according to the group's Web site.
Calvin Johnson, who spent 17 years in prison after being falsely convicted of rape, also was exonerated recently thanks to the work of the Innocence Project, reports CBS News national correspondent Byron Pitts.
"It could happen to anybody," Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, told Pitts. "It has happened to people that you would never expect to have been convicted of a crime that they didn't commit."
Miller was arrested in the attack on a 44-year-old woman at a Chicago parking garage in September 1981. The attacker raped her and put her in the trunk of her car, but he ran away when two attendants approached him as he tried to leave the garage.
The attendants helped authorities make a sketch and later picked Miller out of a lineup.
Now that he is exonerated, Miller no longer has to register as a sex offender.
Mark Ertler, deputy supervisor of the Cook County state's attorney's office DNA review unit, told the Chicago Tribune that the case was "a good example of what the DNA unit was intended to do."