A Chicago man who spent two decades behind bars after being convicted of murder has been released from jail — nine years after his identical twin confessed to the crime.
On Tuesday night, Kevin Dugar, 43, was released from Cook County Jail in Chicago after a judge granted his release on a signature bond — pending trial, according to his attorney, Ron Safer, the Chicago Tribune and ABC7 report.
“Kevin’s feeling great,” Safer told ABC7 minutes after Dugar walked out of the prison. “He’s a free man tonight. It’s long overdue.”
Dugar was in tears as he was reunited with his family, Safer told NBC News.
“He walked out into the open air and breathed his first breaths as a free man in almost 20 years,” Safer told NBC News. “It was gratifying to watch his tears roll down his cheeks and their cheeks before (the tears) froze on their faces because it was about 7 below.”
In 2005, Dugar was convicted of shooting and killing a rival gang member in 2003. He was sentenced to 54 years in prison.
But in 2013, in what Safer tells PEOPLE is akin to the plot of a “Lifetime movie,” his twin brother, Karl Smith, wrote Dugar a letter confessing to the murder.
“I have to get it off my chest before it kills me,” Smith wrote, the Daily News reports. “So I’ll just come clean and pray you can forgive me.”
Smith was serving a 99-year-sentence for a home invasion and armed robbery in which a child was killed, the Chicago Tribune reports.
The prosecutor didn’t buy the confession, saying Smith had “nothing to lose,” especially since he’d recently been denied an appeal on his case, the Daily News reports.
Wanting to make this right, an attorney with the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions took the case on and appealed Dugar’s conviction.
Though Dugar is out of jail, he still isn’t a free man since he has to return to court once more to prove his innocence, which he has maintained since his arrest.
“Sadly, Kevin is not yet an exoneree,” Safer tells PEOPLE.
“We are gratified that Judge Hooks carefully weighed all factors and released Kevin pending trial,” he tells PEOPLE.
“I am hopeful that the State will do the right thing and dismiss Kevin’s case,” he says. “If not, we will prevail at trial because Kevin is innocent.”
While Dugar is elated about being released from jail, he is also “adjusting to a world that is quite different from the world he left 20 years ago when he was arrested for this crime he did not commit,” Safer told the New York Post.
“You know, you would think (being released) is just unmitigated joy,” he told NBC News, “but the adjustment, the wounds that are inflicted by wrongful incarceration, are deep and enduring and there is an adjustment period that lasts a lifetime but particularly in the early days are very, very challenging.”