CREST HILL, Ill. (WLS) -- A man who served 10 years in prison was released Monday afternoon after a judge threw out his gun conviction because it was tied to a group of corrupt Chicago police officers, including Sgt. Ronald Watts.
Anthony McDaniels, 50, was so overwhelmed with emotion that he could hardly speak after his release from Stateville Correctional Center in southwest suburban Crest Hill.
McDaniels, who always maintained his innocence, was informed that he was to be released just a couple hours before it happened.
"Ain't nobody believe me. I kept telling them, over and over again. The exoneration people came and saved my life. If it wasn't for them I'd still be doing the rest of this time for nothing," McDaniels said.
McDaniels is the 24th person to have his conviction tossed because it was linked to former Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts, who led a corrupt crew of CPD cops.
In 2008, McDaniels, who was living in the now-defunct Ida B. Wells housing complex, was charged with gun possession when he said a weapon was planted in his car after he refused to pay a bribe to one of Watts' crew.
And while it's been nearly five years since Watts was sent to prison for his actions, many like McDaniels remained behind bars long after his sentence was served. It was just this past November 15 men had their Watts-related convictions thrown out en masse.
"There are three dozen or more others, clients that I have, who like those that have been exonerated, who have served their time, who we're going to seek justice for, we're going to fight for. They were all similarly framed," said McDaniels' attorney Joshua Tepfer.
As for McDaniels, a lot has changed since he went away. His father died while he was in prison. His mother is struggling with illness. His sister, LaShawn McDaniels, who was with him on Monday, went to law school just to try and get him out.
"This is truly overwhelming. I'm overwhelmed with joy. It's been a struggle, but he's free," LaShawn McDaniels said.
"I needed that support. I truly did," Anthony McDaniels said.
Watts and the officer accused of planting the weapon on McDaniels went to prison in 2013, however, there are currently 15 officers still on the force who worked with them. They have been placed on desk duty until an internal investigation into the matter is resolved.
Man released from prison after conviction tied to corrupt ex-Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts