updated 10/1/2008 9:48:33 PM ET 2008-10-02T01:48:33

An appeals court on Wednesday ordered a Chicago police officer freed from prison in an Iowa assault case that has top brass back home defending one of their own.

The Iowa Court of Appeals said Officer Michael Mette's trial judge had no testimony on which to base her ruling that he could have walked away from a fight with another man — but didn't.

Mette had argued self-defense in the 2005 fight in Dubuque with Jake Gothard that left Gothard with a fractured nose, cheek and jaw.

In November 2006, 1st Judicial District Judge Monica Ackley found Mette guilty of assault causing serious injury and sentenced him to five years. She said Mette was not the initial aggressor but could have retreated.

The case prompted an outcry in Chicago, where prominent officials — including Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine and Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis — had called for Mette's release.

In its ruling, the appeals court found that there was no testimony to support Ackley's findings.

"After being pushed and knocked backwards two or three times, there was nothing in the record to indicate Michael could have avoided Gothard's next blow, without his defensive punch," the appeals court ruled. "While it may be possible to speculate on Michael's ability to retreat, the record is utterly void of any testimony to support that assumption."

The appeals court sent the case back to district court for a judgment of acquittal.

"I won't feel like a free man until I walk out that gate," Mette told The Associated Press on Wednesday in an interview at the state prison in Rockwell City.

"It's such a relief to get this over, and the way I've gone through my life, once I'm out of this gate, it's over," he said. "This part of it is done, and I go back and hopefully start my life where I stopped it back in 2005."

Jennifer Pomatto, Mette's sister, said the ruling excited the family.

"We hope to have him home by the end of the month, and hopefully this will be the end of it," she said.

Daley said in a statement that he was grateful the court reversed the decision, noting that Mette "did little or nothing to provoke" the incident.

State prosecutors haven't decided whether to ask the Iowa Supreme Court to review the ruling, said Bill Roach, a spokesman for the Iowa attorney general's office.

A telephone message seeking comment from Dubuque County Attorney Ralph Potter wasn't returned.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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