WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Judge Anne Minihan called it the honor of her career to exonerate Leonard Mack.
Mack told CBS New York on Tuesday he never lost hope and faith that one day justice would be served.
"I'm free at last! Free at last!" Mack said.
It never seemed more fitting that a statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stands outside the Westchester County Courthouse, then after the exoneration of Mack.
"Forty eight long years ... I walked around society being labeled a rapist," Mack said.
On Tuesday, the day of his 72nd birthday, Mack felt born again.
When the Vietnam vet was just 23, he was wrongly convicted of the 1975 gunpoint sex assaults on two Greenburgh teenagers in the woods near a local high school.
"Coming home from Vietnam ... I said to myself I served my country, and this is how I get the thanks, by putting me away in prison," Mack said.
Mack had a strong alibi, but police used aggressive tactics to get witnesses to identify him -- and won a conviction.
Mack lost his appeals and served more than seven years in prison. He then moved to South Carolina to restart his life with wife, Mary.
"The criminal justice system, including the DA's office, failed him, failed to protect an innocent man," Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah said.
It was an injustice finally rectified. The Innocence Project worked with the DA's office to review the conviction. New generation DNA testing on evidence from the 1970s implicated a known sex offender, who belatedly confessed.
"Due to New York State statute of limitations for rape, we cannot prosecute this individual for the rape," Rocah said, adding the suspect is in jail for failing to register as a sex offender after a separate 2004 conviction.
"It has been a long fight. Nobody knows what I went through except God and myself," Mack said.
He said he kept the faith and was confident justice ultimately would not be denied.
Mack said he's heartbroken his mother and sister did not live to see him declared innocent, but added he is grateful for the work of The Innocence Project and the DA's office in reviewing his case and clearing his name.
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