ROCKFORD - A Rockford man, locked up for murder when he was a teenager is now a free man. John Horton, 41, spent more than two decades in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Horton has been out since February, but he's now officially cleared in the eyes of the law.
"A lot of hurt, that started to go away today. I'm thankful for that. I'm thankful for today," said Horton.
The 41-year old is speaking about the pain he experienced after being held at the Menard Correctional Center for 24 years. Horton spent more than half of his life behind bars after being convicted of a robbery and first degree murder back in 1993. Horton had even confessed to the murder of Arthur Castaneda at a Rockford McDonald's.
However, Attorney Josh Tepfer and his team from the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago, uncovered information prosecutors had failed to disclose. The information revealed the then-17 year old's confession was false and an appellate court overturned his conviction. A special prosecutor refused to refile the charges.
"This is a moment we have been waiting for for a very... long time," said Tepfer. "It's a day of tremendous joy in so many ways, hinged with a tiny bit of bitterness because this should have never, ever happened."
Horton hopes it's a situation the courts will never put someone through again.
"It's something that, I hope no 17 year-old, will ever have to endure. No 20 year-old, no 30 year-old, [and] no 40 year-old," said Horton. "No person. Period."
Horton says he won't get back what he lost during his time incarcerated.
"You lose a lot of you in that place," said Horton. "I was fortunate with the love and support that I had that refined me and kept me whole."
Now, he and his family plan to move forward and continue on with their lives.
"[He's] so easy to love and being a man set apart from anyone you've ever met... It wasn't hard to fight for him," said Wife, Melissa Horton.
"I'm grateful for the outcome," said John Horton. "Those words I heard today, are the ones that I prayed for."
Horton and his attorneys are not in any lawsuit talks, but will explore some options in the future.
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