The first steps to freedom. It's Chad Breland's first night out of prison after serving 26 years for crimes he did not commit.
"I never gave up. You know because I know my innocence," Breland said. "I couldn't sit there at night and rest."
He was convicted in 1997 for committing two robberies in November of 1995, in Far Rockaway, Queens.
ALSO READ | What Gabby Petito's death by strangulation could mean for Brian Laundrie's case
He stayed in the prison library studying the law. His work paid off with the discovery of evidence that would lead to his exoneration.
"We found out there were fingerprints at the scene that actually eliminated Chad and point to someone else," attorney Chad Bonus said.
Bonus started reviewing the case in 2016 and found inconsistent witnesses, an unreliable informant and the fingerprints.
But that evidence was held back when the district attorney in Queens prosecuted the case and Breland got a 30-year sentence.
"Sometimes I felt like I had a black cloud because every time I fight and go around the corner I wasn't getting where I needed to get," Breland said.
ALSO READ | Teen girl shot in head in Brooklyn park released from hospital
Thanks to the Queens Criminal Integrity Unit, the case got another chance and new facts came to light leading to Breland's release, but nothing makes up for the lost 26 years. At 52 years old he's starting over.
"You know it's going to take time to absorb 26 years. It's not a walk in the park," he said. "I have to take time and heal and deal with a lot of medical issues that I have with my family and rebuild."
Relatives died while he sat in jail, but now he wants to fight for the innocent who sit behind bars and work to eliminate immunity for authorities who hold back or falsify evidence.
* More Queens news
* Send us a news tip
* Download the abc7NY app for breaking news alerts
* Follow us on YouTube
Submit a News Tip