CHICAGO (WLS) -- For the last 12 years, Darien Harris has been in prison, serving time for murder. But he has always maintained his innocence.
The news he and his family have been waiting for came Tuesday. All charges were dropped.
Harris walked out of custody a free man Tuesday evening.
"I finally made it. 12 and a half years, I made it," he said.
Nakesha Harris was a mother eager to see her son.
"This is the best Christmas gift ever," Harris said.
It doesn't feel real. I guess when I hold him in my arms it will be realmother of exoneree
Harris, then a high school senior, was a week from graduation, when he was identified as a murder suspect at the age of 18 in the shooting death of Rondell Moore at a gas station at 66th Place and Stony Island Avenue in 2011.
The star witness for prosecutors said the shooter was Harris. But with the help of a fellow inmate in his own jail cell research, Harris discovered something critical about that start witness: he was legally blind.
"I didn't understand it at first. And that's when I dug deeper and found out that he was legally blind and I brought it to my lawyers," Harris said.
"The star witness, the eyewitness the judge said was honest, credible, was unimpeachable, he turned out to be blind, legally blind. This was discovered after the conviction," attorney for the Exoneration Project Lauren Myerscough-Mueller said.
A Cook County judge exonerated Harris of murder in July but kept him locked up while prosecutors planned to re-try him. Five months later, they abandoned their case.
In court Tuesday, a Cook County judge officially dropped the charges against Harris, paving the way for the now-30-year-old to be released, after serving 12 years.
"Why did it take so long? Why did we have tonight so hard? Sometimes when the evidence is that blatant just let them go," Harris said.
"It doesn't feel real. I guess when I hold him in my arms it will be real," Nakesha Harris said before his release.
Last week, Jimmy Soto was released from prison after serving 42 years on a wrongful conviction.
Soto was in court Tuesday to support Harris and the others, he said, are waiting for justice.
"We need to started pushing and make sure they get out. They shouldn't have to do so many years like I did, like Darien did, like others are still doing," Soto said.
Now 30, Harris will finally be home for Christmas.
"I missed some of my best years, but man I'm fixing to live some good years now," he said.