A Rockford man, convicted of a murder he says he did not commit, is out of jail for the first time in nearly 25 years.

It was the moment John Horton has been waiting for.  His brother hugged him as he walked out of the Winnebago County Jail a free man.  A crowd of supporters released balloons into the sky to celebrate Horton’s release.

Horton is out on bond for a 1993 murder of a Rockford security guard.  He says he didn’t do it.  An appellate court agreed.

“I was losing hope,” said Horton.  “I wanted to believe, but I was losing it and [the Exoneration Project] gave it back to me.”

Attorneys with the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago helped secure Horton’s freedom.

When he was 17, Horton confessed to the murder after a long interrogation.  He’s maintained his innocence since then.  But, he came to accept that life in prison might be his destiny.

“They pulled me out of a place that I didn’t realize that I was in until they came into my life.  I’m grateful for that.  I’m so grateful.”

Now, clinging tightly to his daughter and fiancee, Horton’s grateful for the larger family that brought him justice and freedom.

“I remember reading a newspaper article and he said this is an advocacy of love.  That’s what they have shown me.  They’re not people who work in law firms.  They’re my family now.”

Horton was released on a $50,000 bond.  Horton’s cousin, Clifton English, has also confessed to the crime.  English is currently in prison for another murder committed during a different restaurant robbery.