Man Exonerated After Spending 23 Years Behind Bars for a Murder He Didn't Commit

News - Johanna Li

A man who spent 23 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit has been exonerated, much to the joy of his friends and family.

Read: Man Who Spent 34 Years in Prison for Teen's Murder Is Freed by DNA Evidence, Says He'll Eat Steak

John Horton, 41, of Rockford, Ill., celebrated by warmly embracing friends, relatives and lawyers outside the courthouse Thursday as they received the news.

“A lot of hurt started to go away today, and I’m thankful for that,” Horton told reporters. “I’m thankful for today.”

Horton was only 17 years old when he confessed to killing a man during a robbery at a McDonalds in 1993 and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

But Horton maintained his innocence. He said he never committed the crime, and only signed the confession after a 10-hour interrogation, WIFR reported.

Horton and his attorney brought the case to the Illinois Appellate Court in 2016 and the conviction was overturned.

Horton was released from prison on bond in February, and he worked with the Exoneration Project to finally see justice in a re-trial.

“It's a day of tremendous joy in so many ways tinged with a tiny bit of bitterness, because this should have never ever happened,” his lawyer, Joshua Tepfer, said.

Read: Man Freed After 13 Years in Prison for Murder He Didn't Commit: 'It's a Wonderful Feeling'

Since he was released from prison, Horton worked as an inspirational speaker and a mentor to young people.

While his lawyer said a lawsuit is not off the table, Horton’s only focus at the moment is catching up with family.

Watch: 'I Saw Signs That Concerned Me': Meet the Woman Once Engaged to 'Making a Murderer's' Steven Avery