A Dallas County courtroom erupted in applause Friday as two men wrongly convicted of capital murder 12 years ago were set free.
Fifty-four-year-old Claude Simmons Jr. and 39-year-old Christopher Scott had been serving life sentences for the 1997 murder of Alfonso Aguilar. Key evidence in the case never made it to trial and the two had been trying to prove their innocence ever since.
Their fortunes changed recently when two other men confessed to the crime.
"They really didn't have any evidence pointing toward us," said Scott.
So a state district judge in Dallas ordered Simmons and Scott released during a Friday court hearing.
"The evidence supports a final finding of fact showing that each defendant in these two cases are actually innocent," said Dallas criminal district court Judge Robert Burns. Burns apologized for the mistakes that were made in the past and asked that the two not be bitter and enjoy the freedom they were about to experience.
A joint investigation between the Dallas Police Department's Cold Case Unit and the Conviction Integrity Unit of the Dallas County District Attorney's Office led to the releases.
The men's family members expressed joy as they finally reunited.
"(I) never lost hope," said Scott's mother, Zeddie Rucker. "I couldn't, I couldn't. God wouldn't let me do it and I didn't want to do it because I knew my child was innocent."
Now Scott and Simmons will start to make up for almost 13 years of missed moments.
"It was exciting to see my father after 13 long years," said Scott's son, Dameon Scott. "He missed my first basketball game, my prom, everything."
For the two wrongly convicted men, trying to put the past 12 years behind them, Friday was the first day of the rest of their free lives.
"Here we are," said Scott. "This is the second time around for us."
When asked what the first thing they'll do when they get out will be, the two said prison food was horrible so sitting down to a nice juicy steak would be just fine with them.