CHICAGO — Two Chicago men who were serving life sentences for a 1994 rape and murder were released from prison Monday after DNA evidence exonerated them.

Nevest Coleman and Darryl Fulton were convicted in 1997 for the rape and murder of Antwinica Bridgeman. The woman celebrated her 20th birthday at a gathering of friends, including Coleman. She disappeared that night and was discovered weeks later in Coleman’s basement.

Both the then-25-year-old Coleman and 27-year-old Fulton confessed to the crime. The two later said their confessions were coerced.

Coleman on Monday walked out of Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg with his defense counsel. His family members, including a daughter who was 2 years old when he was incarcerated, cheered as he approached.

“There he is!” a cousin shouted. “The day has finally come!”

Coleman told reporters he was emotional and tired, having not slept much since learning he would be released. He spoke through tears of the family members lost over the years.

“I wish my mom and father were here. My mom and my father, my aunties, uncles, grandmas, relatives,” Coleman said.

Coleman said he was not angry but “just upset that it took this long.”

Darryl Fulton was released from Menard Correctional Center into the arms of his family.

“When she (his lawyer) gave me the news, it was kinda overwhelming, and stress came up off my body and I had to just exhale,” said Fulton said, who met his daughter, Joselyn, for the first time.

Cook County Circuit Judge Dennis Porter vacated the convictions of Coleman and Fulton on Friday. Porter noted a fresh round of DNA testing this spring showed semen stains on Bridgeman’s clothing matched a serial rapist. The rapist has not been publicly identified.

Porter has ordered a new trial for the men. However, it’s uncertain whether that will happen. Prosecutors have said they are waiting for a last round of DNA testing before a final decision is made.

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