KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A Kansas City man convicted of a double murder has been released from prison after being behind bars 23 years.
Ricky Kidd has always maintained his innocence, and attorneys have been fighting for years to get his conviction overturned.
"After 20-something years, it's great we're finally close to the finish line," said Rachel Wester, attorney with the Midwest Innocence Project.
A ruling Wednesday by a DeKalb County judge, indicated the initial case was deeply flawed. There was no physical evidence tying Kidd to the crime, and the only witness who had identified him, recanted.
The judge insisted the state must decide if it will pursue a new trial within the next 30 days. If it decides not to do so, Kidd will be a free man for good.
"He's been trying to remain hopeful but also realistic about what might happen and just in the last 24 hrs since this news, he's gone through a full range of emotion. But he is happy and excited and ready to be home with his family finally," Wester said.
The case stems from a 1996 shooting of two Kansas City men.
Marcus Merrill eventually confessed to his role in the crime and said two other men helped him do it. During the investigation, police received an anonymous tip that Kidd was one of the accomplices.
He and Merrill were tried together. Both men were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
The Midwest Innocence Project and a team of attorneys have been fighting for years to get that conviction overturned.
"It's an example of how long this process takes and how long it can take for justice to really reveal itself
Kidd had two alibis. He said been with his girlfriend, Monica Gray, and went to the sheriff's office to apply for a gun permit the day of the murders. That evidence wasn't vetted by Kidd's public defender or heard at trial.
Kidd believed he had been mistakenly identified as his uncle, who Merrill later indicated took part in the crime. (One of the individuals Merrill said helped commit the murders has since died. The other, has never been charged in the crime.)
"There was evidence back at the time of trial in 1996-97 that we knew who the three perpetrators of this crime are. There's been evidence all along it wasn't Ricky, and it was the three real perpetrators and still took over 20 years for the truth to really come to light," Wester said.
The case did make it all the way to the Missouri state appeals court and ultimately, a DeKalb County judge said Kidd should not remain behind bars any longer, granting an order for his immediate release late Thursday.
The Jackson County Prosecutor's Office did not oppose Kidd's release, and is still determining whether it will re-file charges against him for a new trial, or drop the case altogether.
In Missouri, anyone wrongfully convicted is only eligible for cash compensation if DNA is used to overturn the case. That means, as of now, Ricky Kidd would not be eligible for a payout. Since 2011, 62 individuals in Missouri have been exonerated.