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Wrongly Convicted Man Freed After 20 Years in Prison

Rodell Sanders spent 20 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit

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Rodell Sanders spent 20 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. NBC 5's Charlie Wojciechowski reports. (Published Wednesday, July 23, 2014)

A suburban Chicago man wrongly convicted of murder got a taste of freedom for the first time in 20 years Wednesday.

Rodell Sanders received a new trial and was acquitted after a witness recanted.

"I am happy to be out. I am thankful to be out. I am happy I survived as long as I did. I'm thankful for my legal team. I am thankful for my family that stood by me all this time," Sanders said.

Sanders was serving an 80-year sentence for a crime he never committed. He was identified in a photo lineup by the surviving victim of the robbery, but his attorneys say police doctored the photo.

"Anyone viewing that photo array would know you wouldn't put a photo with errors in it just to be a filler. That to be the suspect's photograph," attorney Russell Ainsworth said.

After he was convicted, Sanders became a student of the law, and acted as his own attorney at the hearing that won him a new trial.

"I took about $1,000 -- asked my sister Virginia to buy me about $1,000 worth of legal books, and I taught myself the law as much as I can, and I took on the justice system," Sanders said.

Sanders was reunited with his children and grandchildren Wednesday.

"I tell him all the time that I can't even believe the things he's done. He's a talker, without a doubt, so yeah, he is unbelievable," Sanders' eldest daughter, Lynette Booth, said.

Sanders is suing the Chicago Heights police department and the officers involved in his case, but he says he's not bitter or angry -- he'd like to work for change by helping others wrongly convicted and serving time.

"I want to go out. I want to work. I love law, love the courtroom. I would love to go on to be a paralegal or a lawyer or something like that," Sanders said.