Three men walked out of jail into the arms of family members Wednesday night, after 18 years in prison on wrongful murder convictions.
In an emotional reunion with his family on a Bronx street, Michael Cosme, 37, screamed, "I'm free, I'm free. Finally, after 18 years, I'm free."
Cosme, Devon Ayers, and Carlos Perez were convicted in the murders of a livery cab driver and a FedEx executive in 1995. But nearly two decades later, prosecutors learned two gang members confessed to murdering the cab driver, and the rest of the case unraveled, documented in a joint WNBC/Dateline investigation.
"I've been innocent, and I've been fighting all these years, and the hard work finally paid off," said Cosme.
Two other people also wrongly convicted of the same murder were released from prison in October 2012.
"It's not easy for a man to be in jail for all these years for a crime he didn't do," said Perez. "It hurts."
"Proving your innocence is hard, especially from behind bars. All you can do is rely on your faith in the system and people like Mr. Austern," he said, referring to his lawyer by his side, Bruce Austern.
Ayers said, "I just want to get home to my family."
Perez said he was looking forward to spending the night with his children and "make up for all the lost years." After that, he wants to pursue a scholarship and finish his college education and receive a degree to become a paralegal. Perez became a law clerk while he was in prison.
Cosme, who does not have children, said he wants to study culinary arts and "work in a nice upscale restaurant."