updated 4/30/2004 4:36:28 PM ET 2004-04-30T20:36:28

A judge Friday threw out the conviction of a man imprisoned 19 years for molesting children, concluding that the testimony of the alleged victims was unreliable. Most of the children now say the assaults never happened.

John Stoll, now 60, will remain in custody until a May 4 hearing to determine a release date.

He was convicted in 1985 on 17 counts of child molestation. Attorneys for the Innocence Project have sought his freedom since January, claiming authorities coerced false testimony from the child victims, ranging from 6 to 8 years old.

“The petitioner has met the burden of showing that the interview techniques ... resulted in unreliable testimony from child witnesses,” Kern County Superior Court Judge John Kelly said.

Doctors never examined the children who claimed to have been molested by Stoll and others at parties that included sodomy and group sex.

Four of Stoll’s accusers, now adults, recently testified they were manipulated by investigators who dogged them for hours until they fabricated the stories. A fifth witness testified he has no memories from that part of his childhood.

Though Stoll is up for parole next year, a release without vindication could send him to a mental hospital indefinitely.

“I just want to clear my name,” Stoll said earlier this year in a jailhouse interview with The Associated Press. “That’s all I’ve got left.”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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