Eric Nordmark spent more than eight months in an Orange County jail as an accused child molester. With his trial under way last month, Nordmark made plans to kill himself if convicted by smuggling a razor blade into his cell.
"My mind was made up," Nordmark later told the Los Angeles Times.
But two days into the trial, one of the girls admitted that their story was a lie concocted as an excuse for getting home late from school.
Nordmark, a 36-year-old homeless man who drifted from job to job, was set free after 251 days in jail.
The three 11-year-old girls told police this story: They were walking through a park on their way home from school when they were attacked by a man who threw one of them to the ground and began to tear off her blouse.
The attacker then tried to strangle a second little girl who came to the help of her fallen friend. The girl who had been thrown to the ground kicked the man in the groin and all three girls managed to run to safety.
Nordmark, who matched a general description of the fictional assailant, was picked up and identified as the attacker by two of the three girls.
The story told by the girl who emerged as Nordmark's principal accuser was so vivid and detailed that Nordmark himself came to believe she had been attacked.
But two days into his trial, the girl admitted the story was made up. The girls, it turned out, feared their parents would punish them for getting home late from school.
Nordmark has moved to Seattle, where he is now trying to put his life together. In a series of telephone interviews with the Times, he said he was still bitter about his treatment at the hands of the Garden Grove, Calif., police.
"They say they're there to serve and protect the public. But that doesn't apply to me," he told the newspaper. "To me, they pin, nail and degrade."
Nordmark's accusers have also been given a taste of rough justice. The three little girls were arrested and led from their elementary school in handcuffs for making up the story.
Nordmark's lawyer, David Swanson, believes the police made serious error by interviewing the girls in a group rather than individually, a circumstance that made it easy for them to tell the same story.
The Times said Nordmark had managed to find an apartment, and has landed a job sorting clothing donated to Goodwill.
"It's not going to be a career move," he told the newspaper, "but it's one step on the ladder."