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After 36 years in prison, man welcomed home after sentence commuted

SOUTH ST. LOUIS, MO — Thirty-six years and ten days, that’s how long Rodney Lincoln was in prison before his sentence was commuted for a crime he still says he never committed, CNN affiliate KTVI reports.

“This is my welcome home party,” Rodney Lincoln said.

This comes after former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens commuted his sentence on his last day in office.

He’s basking in his freedom surrounded by friends and family some of whom he’s never met.

His daughter said it’s been a long time coming.

“For the last 36 years, I’ve been a 10-year-old little girl waiting for her daddy to come home and now he’s home. It’s amazing, so surreal and sometimes I have to pinch him to make sure it’s real,” his daughter Kellie Porter said.

Lincoln was supposed to serve 15 years plus two consecutive life sentences. He was charged with murdering JoAnn Tate in her St. Louis apartment in 1982 and attacking her two daughters with a knife.

Lincoln’s lawyer, Tricia Bushnell, with the Midwest Innocence Project, said Rodney is free but he hasn’t been exonerated despite Greitens acknowledging his innocence.

“You look at Mr. Lincoln’s case where there’s no evidence left to convict him. The witness who identified him says it’s not him. The hair that they said matched his DNA says it wasn’t him. So, what’s left? You couldn’t even arrest him today. We can’t get justice here if we can’t fix that and so I think that’s what we have to look at. What’s the system that we want?” she said.

Lincoln wants to be a part of that change by sharing his story. He wants to give hope to others who’ve been wrongfully convicted.

For now, he’s trying to readjust to an outside world he hasn’t been a part of for more than 30 years and he’s embracing it with open arms.

“I went back to my old neighborhood and it wasn’t my old neighborhood anymore or something. Now, just like this, my life is something new,” he said.

Lincoln’s attorney plans to file another petition for clemency this time hoping he’ll be exonerated for the crime.