updated 7/6/2006 4:44:45 PM ET 2006-07-06T20:44:45

A man who spent more than two decades in prison after being wrongfully convicted of a brutal rape was freed Thursday because DNA evidence has cleared him.

Relatives of Alan Newton, 44, whooped loudly as he entered the crowded courtroom. Newton stood quietly in a beige suit and bright blue shirt as Judge John Byrne signed the order declaring him free.

After his paperwork was processed, he stepped outside the courthouse, thanking his attorneys and offering his sympathy to the woman whose rape led to his wrongful conviction.

“My unjust conviction denied both of us justice,” Newton said. “It opens up old wounds and denies her closure.”

He said he planned to enjoy a home-cooked meal and visit the New Jersey grave of his mother, who died about 10 years ago.

The nonprofit Innocence Project and prosecutors from the Bronx district attorney’s office had asked for Newton’s 1985 conviction to be vacated based on recent testing on a rape kit used for the woman.

Newton was convicted of raping the 25-year-old woman in an abandoned Bronx building in 1984 and was sentenced to up to 40 years in prison.

In 1994 he filed a motion asking that new DNA testing be conducted, but the request was denied because the evidence was unavailable, the Innocence Project and prosecutors wrote in court papers.

A similar request was granted four years later, but testing of the victim’s clothing “failed to yield the presence of male DNA,” the papers said.

At the request of the Innocence Project, the Bronx district attorney’s office last year asked the New York Police Department’s property clerk division to search for the rape kit at an evidence warehouse in Queens.

The result “conclusively excludes” Newton as the assailant, according to the papers.

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