IONIA, Mich. (NEXSTAR/AP) — Nearly 16 years after he was convicted in connection to three murders in Benton Harbor, Corey McCall is a free man.

“I feel good, man. It’s been a long time. It’s been hard and I’m glad I’m here,” McCall said during a Thursday press conference at a rainy Ionia park after his conviction was vacated and he was released from prison.

McCall was serving a life sentence for the 2005 deaths of three people, including a 12-year-old boy, who was shot in the head during a home invasion. McCall was not accused of being the shooter, but he was identified by a surviving victim as one of the gunmen in the house. McCall told police that he was at a Walmart, but his alibi was ultimately discredited by Walmart employees.

Nearly two decades later, the Michigan Attorney General’s Conviction Integrity Unit received information saying that McCall was not a participant in the crime. His innocence became apparent after new evidence, witnesses and documents that were not present at the trial were discovered, Nessel said. The convicted gunman, Andrew “Pumpkin” Miller, also recently told investigators that McCall wasn’t present.

Berrien County Prosecutor Steve Pierangeli called it “tragic” that McCall served prison time in connection to the deaths.

“In this case, Mr. McCall was convicted when the perpetrators of the crime had information of his innocence and waited until recently to disclose it,” Pierangeli said in a statement. “I fully recognize, however, that setting aside the conviction cannot begin to adequately compensate Mr. McCall for what he has lost. Nothing can restore his lost youth or return to him the years he spent in prison.”    

McCall said it was difficult to keep up hope during the years behind bars.

“Doing time in prison for something you ain’t do, it tends to wear on your mind, mess with your psyche. And you have to build yourself up to come back to reality,” he said. “(The days were) very long. I just had to pray, try to keep myself safe and stay out of harm’s way.”

But even though he spent years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, there was no anger in his voice Friday.

“You can’t be angry. You can’t hang on to a grudge. You’ve got to live and let go,” McCall said.

His said his plan right now is to spend time with his family, including the son who grew up without him. He’s also engaged to be married.

“The exoneration of Mr. McCall is an example of the importance of a collaboration between multiple agencies,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement. “When I established the CIU, I envisioned our office working side-by-side with local prosecutors and police departments to uncover the truth. I commend the attorneys and investigators in my office, the local agencies, and the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project for their hard work in ensuring justice for Mr. McCall.”

Gilbert Poole Jr., who was the first person exonerated by the Conviction Integrity Unit, was also at the welcome event in Ionia. He was exonerated after 32 years in prison. He was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1988.

The Conviction Integrity Unit works in conjunction with Western Michigan University’s Cooley Law School Innocence Project. The project says it is part of the Innocence Network, which has been credited with the release of over 375 wrongfully accused prisoners through the use of DNA testing.

“Mr. McCall’s exoneration was made possible by the incredible work of the Attorney General’s Conviction Integrity Unit and the willingness of the Berrien County Prosecutor to vacate his convictions when presented with clear and convincing evidence of his innocence. The Cooley Innocence Project is proud to play a role in this exoneration, and I’m hopeful that this partnership with the CIU will result in justice for others who are wrongfully convicted.”  

Tracey Brame, director of the Cooley Innocence Project