Nevest Coleman and Derrell Fulton were sentenced to life in prison for the 1994 murder of Antwinica Bridgeman. Coleman was released from Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg. Fulton was released from Menard Correctional Center in downstate Menard.
"When she gave me the news, it was kinda overwhelming, and stress came up off my body and I had to just exhale," said Fulton said, who met his daughter, Joselyn, for the first time.
They were greeted by hugs and tears with family members after a lifetime of experiences behind bars.
"I lost my mom. I lost my father. Uncles, aunties, grandmother. Now, I got my family," Coleman said.
The last time he saw his children, they were little more than babies.
"My heart is racing. I'm excited. I'm just glad he's home. I missed him a lot," said his daughter Chanequa Allen.
A judge ordered their release after a fresh round of DNA testing this spring showed semen stains on Bridgeman's clothing matched a serial rapist.
"A serial rapist was the true perpetrator of the murder that robbed Nevest Coleman of 23 years of their lives," said attorney Russell Ainsworth, of the Exoneration Project.
Both men have maintained their innocence, saying that police beat confessions out of them.
The decision comes amidst a flurry of exonerations last week. Fifteen men had their drug convictions cleared Thursday.
A retrial in the Coleman and Fulton case is unlikely. Prosecutors are waiting for a last round of DNA testing before the state can dismiss all charges against both men.
"I just want to get to know my family. Twenty-three years. I haven't known them. I've got to start over," Coleman said.