updated 5/1/2006 4:50:40 PM ET 2006-05-01T20:50:40

A man serving a life sentence for a 1988 killing was freed Monday after charges were withdrawn because DNA evidence from the killer’s clothing did not match him.

Drew Whitley, 50, had been jailed since he was arrested soon after the shooting death of Noreen Malloy, 22, outside the restaurant she managed.

“I want to thank God for keeping me strong through this nightmare,” Whitley said before walking out of court.

DNA test results released last week showed that DNA from hairs on the killer’s hat did not match Whitley, and the office of Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. dropped the charges Monday.

The hat, a bloodstained coat and shoes were found outside the restaurant and a stocking mask was found nearby.

A witness identified Whitley based on the shape of his face and his walk. At his 1989 trial, a crime lab technician said 41 hairs found in the mask resembled Whitley’s hair. DNA testing was not available at the time.

Blood on the shoes matched Whitley’s blood type, but the shoes were destroyed in a 1996 flood that wiped out much of the county police evidence room.

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