After 23 years behind bars, Patrick Pursley is now a free man, a 1993 murder charge against him were officially overturned Wednesday.

Pursley walked into the Winnebago County courtroom this morning not knowing if he was going to walk out.

“I’m very grateful that the judge was methodical and took his time with this, and just saw the evidence for what it was,” Pursley said after his aquittal.

Pursley had been charged — and convicted in 1994 — of the murder of Andrew Ascher.

Judge Joseph McGraw said there was not enough physical evidence to convict him again. The judge also said there was a consistent theme regarding the 9mm gun which was tested by the Illinois State Police.

“I could no longer conclude that the bullets wer fired from [that gun],” Judge McGraw said on Wednesday.

Steven Drizin, a criminal justice advocate at Northwestern University, was the first person to hear Pursley’s pleas for help.

“This journey started with a letter,” Drizin said. “And in that letter, he said, ‘The gun that was seized from my home did not fire the bullets. I am innocent.'”

Pursley won a retrial, which ended today with his aquittal.

John Horton, another Rockford man who was wrongfully convicted and spent 23 in prison, is now part of Pursley’s support system. He says he knows all too well what is going on in Pursley’s mind, and he’s glad that Pursley kept fighting for his freedom.

“Being innocent [kept me going,]” Horton said. “You always have hope when you’re innocent. It fades and you start to have the fear of no tomorrow. But when you’re innocent, you always have hope.”

Pursley says he plans to pursue a certificate of innocence in the future.