MODESTO (CBS13) — A judge says a Modesto man convicted of murder nearly two decades ago has been falsely imprisoned, and was released Wednesday afternoon.

Lawyers, family and the press were on standby Tuesday waiting for George Souliotes’ release.

His case was overturned 16 years after a murder conviction and a life sentence for setting a fire that killed a 30-year-old mother and her 6- and 3-year-old kids.

Souliotes’ son says he’s always known his father’s innocence.

“We’ve always shed tears over a mother and children dying in this thing, but we’ve also shed tears over the fourth victim being my father.”

CBS13 covered the investigation in 1997. His conviction followed testimony where an eyewitness identified him in a Winnebago leaving the home as the fire started.

But following a decade of appeals, Souliotes’ attorneys won a retrial.

A new judge ruled the neighbor’s testimony was unreliable, and new science opened the possibility the fire was accidental.

“It’s going to be a huge adjustment to go from solitary confinement for life.”

A Stanislaus County District Attorney statement said the judge’s actions gutted their case. And even with an order for Souliotes’ release, he remained locked up by the state corrections department, which issued a statement reading:

“Our standard process is to ensure that there are no other warrants, cases or orders pending in any city, county, or state in the country.”

So Souliotes’ long wait for freedom was delayed until Wednesday.

A hearing was set for Wednesday morning where the state had to explain the hold-up to a judge.

The corrections department says the law gives them five days to release someone on a judge’s order.

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