PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — After nearly three decades behind bars, a Philadelphia man is free Tuesday night. Theophalis Wilson, who goes by Bilaal, had his wrongful conviction overturned.
Bilaal says he knew this day was coming, but it hasn’t quite hit him yet that he’s got his freedom back that was wrongfully taken 28 years ago.
“Someone once told me, don’t dig in, dig out. So my whole focus was to get out of jail,” he said.
Bilaal is finally a free man after being convicted of murders he did not commit.
Life in prison without the possibility of parole was his fate up until Tuesday morning when a Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas judge vacated the conviction.
“It’s bittersweet. Sometimes you have survivor’s guilt because the people you’re leaving behind that’s also actually innocent and have been done wrong,” he said.
Bilaal was 19 years old when he was wrongfully convicted of three murders.
According to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, he spent 28 years in prison due to prosecutorial misconduct, a critical witness who supplied false testimony and ineffective assistance of counsel.
Bilaal says he made the most out of his time behind bars.
“I turned jail into Yale, prison into Princeton and the big house into Harvard. I turned it into institutional learning for myself,” Bilaal said.
He never gave up, and neither did Greenberg Traurig and Phillips Black law firms.
Last fall, they filed a petition to exonerate Bilaal, which the DA’s office supported.
Bilaal has a message for others who are fighting wrongful convictions.
“Keep your head up, get down to that law library and most of all, pray,” he said.
District Attorney Larry Krasner released a statement earlier today, reading in part: “This office determined that the 1992 conviction of Mr. Wilson for the 1989 murders of Kevin Anderson, Gavin Anderson, and Otis Reynolds lacked integrity.”
Bilaal developed a passion for law while in prison.
His former attorney with Phillips Black says she plans to allow him to work with her office to help free others.