DALLAS, N.C. – A man sentenced to life in prison for a rape he says he didn't commit, is now free on parole.
Willie Grimes walked out of a Gaston County prison Monday morning, after serving nearly 25 years.
Grimes, 65, said he is excited but nervous to readjust to society and will continue to fight to clear his name.
Grimes took a long awaited walk through the back yard of his new home.
"It makes me feel a whole lot better by being out and knowing I don't have to go back to the camp, just being a free man," said Grimes.
Grimes was convicted of rape in Hickory in 1988, but always claimed his innocence. He said he looked forward to his favorite meal -- chitlins, the first night in his own bed and getting back to work. It's a day he dreamed about for decades.
"It don't compare to it (his dreaming of the day) because just knowing the time has come is completely different because certain times I didn't think I'd ever get out,” said Grimes. “I just kept my hope and faith."
Grimes may be free from prison, but he isn't free from his past. He's fighting his conviction, with help from the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence.
But in the meantime, he has to register as a sex offender.
"What's important for Willie is for him to be out of prison,” said Chris Mumma, with the Center on Actual Innocence. “We're not going to stop and it's not going to slow us down any in proving his complete innocence."
The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission met in April. They made a unanimous decision that there was sufficient evidence for further judicial review and requested a three judge panel to hear his case.
"That's the only thing I've been trying to do since I've been in here because clear my name is the most important thing in my life,” said Grimes. “The only thing I got is my name."
Mumma said a hearing date for Grimes' case has not been set. He may be eligible for compensation if exonerated.