A man once convicted on rape and murder charges will soon be a free man.
"It's the Florida Supreme Court recognizing that the evidence was insufficient for the case to even go to the jury in the first place," said defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand.
He represented 55-year-old Derral Hodgkins who is currently on death row. The court ruled that Hodgkins was wrongly convicted of first degree murder in the death of 46-year-old Teresa Lodge. His former girlfriend was found choked, beaten and stabbed to death at her Land O'Lakes apartment on September 28th, 2006. The key evidence in the case was DNA found under the victim's fingernails, that belonged to Hodgkins.
"That DNA could've ended up there days prior to the murder and that's the only thing that connected Mr. Hodgkins to the murder," Brunvand argued.
However, Pasco County Sheriff's Chris Nocco disagreed with the court's decision. "It is disappointing that the Supreme Court did not respect the findings of the trial court or Pasco jury," said Nocco. "This Supreme Court has set a dangerous precedent and has let a violent felon free."
Meanwhile, Hodgkins' family said they're relieved he's being released.
"I believed he was innocent," said his youngest brother Jim Bivens. "I think it was just a big railroad job by the Pasco County Sheriff's office due to his past. I mean, they lied and everything and they had other suspects that once they started investigating him, they didn't even look for the other suspects," said Bivens.
Hodgkins served 17 years in prison for raping a 12-year-old girl in Hillsborough County - a factor that led to a mistrial in the initial murder case.
"Sometimes we want to judge people and convict people based on their prior history, that's completely unrelated to the charge that Mr. Hodgkins is currently on death row for," his attorney concluded.
Hodgkins' wife also maintains he's innocent.
"He wasn't a violent person, when we'd get into an argument or something, he would walk away," said Dorothea Hodgkins.
She and Hodgkins had a baby just before he went to prison and she said their son is looking forward to spending time with his dad.
Meanwhile, Hodgkins' attorney had this message for the victim's family, "I hope they understand that Mr. Hodgkins has always maintained his innocence and it's likely that someone else out there is the one that murdered Teresa Lodge."
Hodgkins is expected to be released in about two weeks.