GRETNA, La. (AP) — A man convicted of a 2001 armed robbery in suburban New Orleans was exonerated Thursday after serving more than 17 years behind bars.

The 2003 conviction of Royal Clark Jr. was vacated by a state judge in Jefferson Parish.

Reaction in the court was subdued as Clark, still shackled and wearing orange prison garb, walked past his parents, sister and son to be processed for release.

Freed shortly afterward, he was welcomed with hugs from his family members and applause from well-wishers, and he thanked The Innocence Project New Orleans, an advocacy organization that helped secure his release.

The organization said in a news release Thursday that Clark was exonerated after a database search linked fingerprints at the robbery scene to another man who was convicted in a series of later robberies. The Innocence Project said Clark's conviction was the result of a misidentification by a single eyewitness, a restaurant employee, nearly two months after the crime.

"At trial, the eyewitness admitted that her attention was focused not on the perpetrator's face but on his gun," the release said.

State District Judge Donald Rowan Jr. presided over Thursday's hearing.

The prosecutor's office did not oppose the motion to vacate Clark's conviction. Assistant District Attorney Terry Boudreaux wished him well before the hearing ended.

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