Ronald Taylor was handcuffed in a hospital bed where he was being treated for cancer when his lawyer came to tell him a judge overturned his conviction in the 1993 killing of a New Haven shop owner.
Taylor, 51, wept. He had served 16 years of an 80-year sentence.
"He was excited to go home. He wanted to go home and see his wife," his attorney, Peter Tsimbidaros, said Friday.
Superior Court Judge Stanley Fuger ruled the day before that Taylor and George Gould are "actually innocent" of the crime and even threw out their arrest warrants. His ruling came after a star witness recanted.
"We're very, very happy and we're very relieved, but we already knew the truth," Taylor's wife, Mary, said Friday. "We knew eventually someday that the truth would come out."
Fuger, who said the men are victims of a "manifest injustice," ordered their immediate release from prison. But prosecutors won an emergency stay of the ruling until Monday afternoon while they decide whether to appeal.
Telephone messages were left Friday for prosecutor Michael O'Hare.
Tsimbidaros said he objected to the emergency stay, calling it on "the verge of unconscionable." He said the state has an interest in ensuring two innocent men are released from prison.
"I would think that interest is stronger than upholding convictions when those convictions were shown to be falsely obtained," Tsimbidaros said.
Prosecutor James Clark, who tried the case, said the judge blocked the state from presenting important evidence on the recantation and predicted his ruling would be reversed.
Taylor and Gould were convicted of killing Eugenio Deleon Vega, a New Haven shop owner.
The star witness, Doreen Stiles, testified at the original trial that she saw Gould enter the store and heard him arguing with Vega about opening his safe. She said she heard a gunshot and then saw Gould and Taylor leave the store.
But last year, Stiles testified that she had lied and that she was not at the murder scene. Stiles cannot be prosecuted for perjury because of a statue of limitations.
The ruling also noted that a DNA analysis of a cord used to bind Vega's hands "conclusively eliminates" Gould and Taylor as the source.
Tsimbidaros said he told Taylor of the ruling at the University of Connecticut Medical Center in Farmington, where he is undergoing chemotherapy treatment. Taylor had a large cancerous tumor removed from his intestinal area a few months ago but his cancer has spread to other organs, his attorney said.
"We are all trying to remain as optimistic as we can," Tsimbidaros said. "Mr. Taylor does have a remarkable spirit."
Taylor's 21-year-old daughter was 5 when her father went to prison.
"His daughter grew up without him," his wife said. "He missed a lot of her life."
Mary Taylor predicted her husband would beat the cancer, too. She said they haven't thought too much about their plans yet.
"We're just going to take a deep breath," she said. "I think he's going to stand out in the sunshine for a while and breathe some fresh air."