Wrongly convicted, man freed after 20 years

John Stoll walks Tuesday from the Kern County Lerdo Detention Facility in Bakersfield, Calif. After spending 20 years behind bars, Stoll's child molestation conviction was overturned after most of his alleged victims recanted. Tuesday was his 61st birthday.Gary Kazanjian / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A man whose child molestation conviction was overturned after he served 20 years in prison was released from custody Tuesday, his 61st birthday.

“Oh My. I don’t know. This is wonderful. It’s just amazing,” John Stoll said after taking a bow and thanking his lawyers. His first wish was for a steak dinner.

“For 20 years, I’ve had to go where others wanted me to go.”

Stoll walked free hours after prosecutors told Judge Lee P. Felice they would not seek to retry him, now that most of his alleged victims have recanted. Felice dismissed the 17 counts of child molestation that he was convicted of in 1985.

“It’s a rebirth day,” said Stoll’s attorney, Linda Starr, legal director of the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University.

Stoll’s decades-old conviction was reversed Friday in Kern County Superior Court after a nearly five-month hearing. Attorneys for two Innocence Project chapters in California had worked for his freedom, claiming authorities coerced false testimony from the victims, who were 6 to 8 years old at the time.