When Daniel Larsen was convicted of carrying a concealed knife in 1999, it was his third strike. Larsen was a twice-convicted burglar.
"I feel good," Larsen said as he walked out of court.
He spoke only a few words to the news media on the advice of his attorney, Terry Goldberg, who instructed him not to grant any interviews.
"I hope you could appreciate how hard it's been for him to be wrongfully incarcerated," Goldberg said. "Please, he'd just like to go home with his wife."
Larsen, 45, was convicted in 1999 of carrying a concealed knife after two police officers testified to seeing him throw it under a car in a bar parking lot. Larsen, an ex-felon and former gang member, was sentenced to 27 years to life in prison under the three strikes law.
On Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Suzanne Segal granted Larsen's release while an appeal on his case is pending.
Larsen's wife, Christina, hopes their nightmare is over.
"God answered my prayers and it's my dream come true," she said. "I thank the Innocence Project (of California) and I thank the judge for lifting the stay and I thank God."
The Innocence Project has spent almost a decade trying to free Larsen. They gathered more than a 100,000 signatures on a petition. They found several witnesses, including a former police chief, who said they saw a different man throw the knife.
The judge found Larsen was not given an adequate defense.
"His life has changed dramatically," said Jan Stiglitz, the co-director of the Innocence Project. "He's no longer a member of a gang, he's now married, he's a serious, mature guy now."
However, Stiglitz fears Larsen's nightmare isn't over yet.
"The attorney general is still arguing that even if Danny is innocent, he should spend the rest of his life in prison because he missed a filing deadline."