Tampa man convicted in 1987 murder case released after three decades

A man who claims he was wrongly convicted of an alleged racially-motivated murder in 1987 was released from prison Tuesday after spending 30 years behind bars.

Nearly 20 family and friends waited to embrace Dean McKee, now 46, as he walked out of the Orient Road Jail after posting bond.

"It's been a long road and I'm so overwhelmed and some wonderful people kept me strong and kept me focused," said McKee, who made a brief statement before heading home. "When you open your heart some amazing things happen. I'm grateful and I'm blessed."

McKee was 16 years old when he and his then-18-year-old brother Scott were arrested and accused of attacking Isaiah Walker, a homeless black man who was found stabbed to death outside the Tampa Museum of Art.

In court, Scott McKee and the boys' father said Dean killed Walker. Years later, however, Dean wrote an affidavit claiming his brother urged him to take the blame for the crime because he was still a minor at the time.

A turning point for Dean came when the Innocence Project of Florida got involved. Tests eventually proved the DNA found on Walker was not Dean's. Recent testimony reportedly contradicted statements given 30 years ago and suggested Scott McKee, who spent less than a year in prison, may have been more involved. 

A judge overturned Dean's conviction and he was released on bond Tuesday night.

"This is the first day of the rest of your life. We have more work to do to completely vindicate you," said Seth Miller, Executive Director of the Innocence Project of Florida.

Among those who waited for Dean's release were his fiancee, Danie Cutler, who was a childhood friend who struck up a relationship with Dean while he was in prison and eventually fell in love.

"I think I'm a little in shock right now, but I'm just extremely grateful, truly, that they are allowing him to come home," Cutler said. "It's been very difficult for all of us but we've all stayed strong together."

The state is expected to appeal the judge's decision to overturn the conviction.

It's unclear whose DNA was found on Walker.

During a 2014 hearing, Scott McKee reportedly invoked the Fifth Amendment several times during testimony about the crime.