updated 4/2/2009 3:13:41 PM ET 2009-04-02T19:13:41

A Connecticut judge dropped murder charges Thursday against a New Britain man who served 20 years in prison after being convicted of killing his pregnant girlfriend.

Miguel Roman's family and friends cheered Thursday as Judge David Gold dismissed the charges. Roman had been sentenced to 60 years in prison for the 1988 murder of his girlfriend, 17-year-old Carmen Lopez, but recent DNA tests showed could not have been the killer.

"I'm glad to have everything finished," Roman said after the hearing. "I've got my freedom, and that's it."

Roman was convicted of killing Lopez based on circumstantial evidence and testimony from friends and family of the victim, and despite testimony from an FBI investigator about tests that eliminated him as a suspect.

More sophisticated DNA testing
New Haven attorney Rosemarie Paine brought Roman's case to the attention of the Connecticut Innocence Project, which also helped to free James Calvin Tillman in 2006 after he was imprisoned for a rape he did not commit.

The Innocence Project, which is looking at more than 100 convictions in Connecticut, has access to more sophisticated DNA testing than was available in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

"I am an optimist. I think this ultimately says something good (about the judicial system), said Karen Goodrow, an attorney and director of the project.

Tillman was awarded $5 million for his wrongful conviction. Roman's lawyers said he also will seek compensation.

Prosecutors said investigators were able to obtain DNA from cigarette butts found in Lopez's apartment and from the two ligatures around her neck. They also learned more from the DNA, extracted from sperm collected from the victim's body.

Paternity issue cited in trial
Authorities also determined that Roman was not the father of Lopez's unborn baby. That issue had been used as a motive in Roman's trial.

Vanessa Roman was 10 years old when her father was sent to prison.

"I always knew he was innocent," she said Thursday. "I never gave up hope, so in my eyes and my hope it was just a matter of when. And now he's here, so we just take it from here now."

The same DNA tests that exonerated Roman implicated led police in December to charge another man, Pedro Miranda of New Britain. He is accused in the killings of Lopez, 16-year-old Rosa Valentin in 1986 and 13-year-old Mayra Cruz in 1987. Miranda, 51, faces the possibility of the death penalty if convicted.

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