After almost 17 years in prison, two men wrongfully convicted of attempted murder in a 2004 shooting were declared innocent by a California judge on Thursday, The Associated Press reports. A new law requires the state to pay them $140 for every day they spent behind bars, which is almost $900,000 each.
The verdicts for Dupree Glass and Juan Rayford’s ended a second trial that began in October after a state appeals court panel overturned their convictions. They were released in 2020, according to the AP. The trial proceedings reportedly included a confession by the actual gunman, Chad Brandon McZeal, a gang member serving a life term for murder in an unrelated case.
Following the judge’s decision, Glass and Rayford hugged each other and their attorneys. Family members and supporters cheered the men on outside the courthouse.
“I thought about this day for so long. I thought about it when I was locked up for 17 years. I thought about it for my last two years being free. I waited for this day because, you know, I knew I was innocent of every crime they said I committed,” Rayford said.
When they were arrested, Glass and Rayford were 17 and 18, respectively, after a shooting involving a group of teens just north of Los Angeles.
The AP reports that according to court documents, two people were shot, but they did not suffer serious injuries. Glass and Rayford were found guilty on “11 counts of attempted murder and sentenced to 11 consecutive life sentences.”
“That trial never should have been brought in the first place,” defense attorney Annee Della Donna told The Associated Press. “There was no evidence tying them to the shooting. Zero.”
“We proved their innocence beyond a shadow of a doubt,” Della Donna said.
The convictions were mainly based on the testimony of only two witnesses, who later recanted their stories. According to the defense, a five-year investigation led them to several other witnesses who said that these men were not the shooters.
Glass and Rayford, who had no criminal record, maintained their innocence from the start. The Innocence Rights initiative at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, took their case.
Glass, now 36, and Rayford, now 37, work as Walmart drivers. Both men are also now new fathers with baby girls.
“I’m not big for words. But today is a wonderful day. For 20 years, we’ve been living this nightmare. It’s finally over. We can go on with our lives,” Glass said.