SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Three men who spent more than 20 years in prison for murder were freed Tuesday in a historic ruling after new tests found none of their DNA on evidence in a case that captivated the U.S. territory.
Nelson Ortiz, Jose Caro and Nelson Ruiz hugged loved ones tightly after prosecutors requested that charges be dropped due to a lack of evidence. The men had repeatedly sought a new trial after they were convicted in 1995 in the killing of 21-year-old pharmacy student Glorimar Perez.
On Tuesday, Judge Jose Emilio Gonzalez asked that the men approach the podium in front of a packed courtroom.
"You are finally free to go and give life the best of you," he said.
The men nodded seriously, while some in the crowd erupted in brief applause. All three had been out on bond since June.
The men are the first in Puerto Rico to have a conviction thrown out under a law approved in December 2015 that allows convicts to request DNA analyses on new evidence or on evidence that was never analyzed or questioned at trial.
The three men were arrested five years after Perez was found shot to death in July 1988. The men had no criminal record, and suspicion fell on them apparently based on circumstance.