NEW ORLEANS -- After proclaiming his innocence for 36 years, John Floyd was granted freedom Thursday, walking out of federal court in New Orleans wearing a black t-shirt emblazoned with a single word: “Justice.”

“I feel awesome. It's awesome to get justice,” Floyd said as he emerged from a brief court hearing, flanked by his attorneys and a cluster of well-wishers.

Floyd was a 35-year-old drifter when he was convicted and sentenced to life in the 1980 stabbing death of Time-Picayune newspaper proof-reader William Hines inside Hine’s French Quarter apartment.

At a judge trial in 1982, judge Floyd was acquitted of an almost identical murder that occurred three days after the Hines’ slaying, even though prosecutors were armed with a confession by Floyd to both killings.

But attorneys with Innocence Project New Orleans discovered fingerprint evidence in 2008 that cast considerable doubt on the confession, a statement that attorneys for Floyd say was coerced.

With an IQ of 59, Floyd can’t read and has a "highly suggestible personality," leaving him vulnerable to giving a false confession, his attorneys argued.

Buried in a police file and apparently not shared with prosecutors was an analysis of fingerprints found on a whiskey glass inside Hines’ apartment that matched neither Hines nor Floyd. No other physical evidence linked Floyd to the crime, IPNO Director Emily Maw said.

“Police and investigators withheld exculpatory evidence. That's what the judge's very detailed ruling finds,” Maw said.

U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance granted Floyd’s release after a five-minute hearing Thursday. Vance paved the way for his release with a ruling in September in which she found that no reasonable jury would convict Floyd based on all the evidence, including the new information uncovered by IPNO attorneys.

“If Floyd was willing - for whatever reason - to falsely confess to one murder, it is far more likely that his other confession is false as well,” Vance wrote. “The considerable evidence tending to undermine the Robinson confession, therefore, also serves to undercut the Hines confession.”

“Police and investigators withheld exculpatory evidence. That's what the judge's very detailed ruling finds,” Maw said.

Floyd, who will celebrate his 68th birthday next week, said he “never lost hope. I knew one day it would come.”

The Orleans Parish District Attorney's office said it is appealing Vance’s ruling to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, but agreed to Floyd's release on his own recognizance.

Vance had ordered the DA’s office to try Floyd within 120 days or release him. With Floyd’s release, he will remain under the supervision of a federal probation officer until his case is completely resolved.

Floyd will live in a donated recreational vehicle near Lafayette, where he has a job waiting for him as a farmhand. IPNO attorneys, who have been working on Floyd's case for 13 years, said Floyd is the longest-serving inmate they have freed.

“As many years as I've been in prison, I think walking out is a shock. It'll take me awhile to get used to it. It feels good, though,” Floyd said.

Floyd emerged from Angola penniless, but IPNO has set up this crowdfunding site to help him with basic necessities: