More than 16 years after authorities arrested him and later sentenced him to spend the rest of his life in prison, George Souliotes walked out a free man from a Stanislaus County jail Wednesday afternoon.
The former Modesto landlord was grateful his supporters never gave up their fight to overturn his conviction on murder and arson charges. For a 72-year-old man in custody more than a decade, he was just happy to walk out of jail.
"I see the sun. It's beautiful," Souliotes said, trying to answer questions about how he felt.
Aleka Pantazis, Souliotes' sister, was overwhelmed with emotion seeing her brother for the first time out of custody. She hugged him tightly, sharing tears of joy.
"There are no words to express how I truly feel," Pantazis said.
A federal judge this spring overturned Souliotes' 2000 conviction and ordered prosecutors to begin a new trial by next Wednesday or set him free. The ruling was based on evidence used to convict Souliotes that has been invalidated by modern scientific tests.
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A Stanislaus County judge ordered Souliotes released from custody after attorneys announced the plea deal Tuesday morning. The defendant agreed to plead no contest to three counts of involuntary manslaughter for failing to maintain smoke detectors in his rental home that burned in a deadly 1997 fire. His sentence was six years in prison.