A man declared innocent after spending 18 years behind bars was released on Friday.
Fernando Bermudez, 40, walked out of a state prison in Ossining, N.Y., a free man. His wife Crystal and their three children, 18, 8, and 5 went to Bermudez's parents home in Upper Manhattan, where relatives had planned a welcome home party.
After being greeted by applause and the clink of champagne glasses, Bermudez said, "I knew one day it would happen, I just didn't know when. And the suspense would sometimes kill you, but I stayed alive for this day and I'm grateful I have."
A Manhattan judge last week overturned Bermudez's 1992 conviction, saying it stemmed from false and unreliable witness testimony. But Bermudez had still been held because he hadn't served a 27-month sentence in a federal drug-sale case. He was freed, when a federal judge ordered Bermudez released at least until June 30 to allow his lawyers time to ask federal officials to credit his drug sentence as served.
Tears of joy and laughter filled the Bermudez's apartment as they welcomed back their long lost son. Bermudez said he sees this as a new beginning.
"I just want to salvage my life pick up the pieces and appreciate the little things in life because I've been gone for so long."
His family, including his parents and his wife, stood by him from day one. Without them, Bermudez said he would not have been able to survive 18 long years in prison.
"I am bitter because this situation didn't have to extend as long as it has," said Bermudez, who completed most of a college degree in prison. "I can't forget but I'm working on levels of forgiveness."