Ohio man tasted freedom for the first time in nearly 30 years on
Wednesday after a judge vacated his conviction because DNA evidence
showed he did not rape an 11-year-old girl.

"It finally happened,
I've been waiting," Raymond Towler, 52, said as he hugged sobbing
family members in the courtroom.

He walked from the
courthouse, arms around his family members, amid the smell of freshly
cut grass, blooming trees and a brisk wind off Lake Erie. He was headed
to an "everything on it" pizza party.

Asked how he would
adjust, Towler responded: "Just take a deep breath and just enjoy life
right now."

Towler had been serving a life sentence for the
rape of a girl in a Cleveland park in 1981. Prosecutors received the
test results Monday and immediately asked the court to free him. Towler
deflected a question about demanding an apology and said he understood
justice can take time."I think it was just a process, you
know, the DNA," he said. "It just took a couple of years to get to it.
We finally got to it and the job was done."In a brief,
emotionally charged session, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge
Eileen Gallagher recapped the case, discussed the recently processed DNA
evidence and threw out his conviction. She also told him that he can
sue over his ordeal.Towler smiled lightly, nodded and kept
his intertwined fingers on his lap. "You're free," the judge
said, leaving the bench to shake Towler's hand at the defense table.
The judge choked back tears as she offered Towler a traditional Irish
blessing. The Ohio Innocence Project, an organization that uses DNA
evidence to clearpeople wrongfully convicted of crimes, said Towler was
among the longest incarcerated people to be exonerated by DNA in U.S. history.
The longest was a man freed in Florida in December after serving 35 years,
according to the project.Towler was arrested three weeks after the crime when
a park ranger who had stopped him on a traffic violation noticed a resemblance
with a suspect sketch. The victim and witnesses identified him from a photo,
police said.Carrie Wood, a staff attorney with the project, said the identifications
were questionable.The latest technology allowed separate DNA testing of a semen
sample and other genetic material, possibly skin cells, she said."That was the test
result that we got this week and it excluded Mr. Towler," she said. "Because Mr.
Towler's conviction was in '81, the technology did not exist to do the kind of
DNA testing that we can do now." Attorneys with the project at the University of
Cincinnati have been working on the Towler case since 2004, and Towler said that
and his faith had given him hope."That's how I've been living these last years,
I've just been keeping hope," Towler said as relatives and friends crowded around
him after the court session, some whooping, "Alleluia." Clarence Elkins, who was
freed in 2005 in Akron on the basis of DNA evidence after serving seven years in
the rape and murder of his mother-in-law and the rape of a 6-year-old relative,
watched from a rear courtroom seat."Today is a great day. Once again, justice is
served a little late, but better late than never," he said. "Almost 30 years is
a very long time. One day is too long." Elkins, 47, won a $1.075 million settlement
from the state for wrongful conviction and said he would recommend thatTowler get
counseling and take his new freedom day by day. "Its like being reborn again, a
whole new life," Elkins said. Prosecutor Bill Mason said his staff would test
crime-scene evidence to try to identify the attacker.