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DALLAS A deaf man wrongly convicted in the 1990 sexual assault of a Richardson girl is a step closer to freedom after a state district judge cleared his name today.

Stephen Brodie, 39, pleaded guilty to the crime in 1993 in exchange for a five-year sentence for abducting the five-year-old girl from her home and forcing her to perform a sex act.

After his plea, his attorneys learned that a fingerprint found on a window matched a suspected serial rapist who was convicted of a similar crime and that a hair found on the girl s blanket did not match Brodie or anyone in the girl s family

Brodie said in an interview that he never doubted that his name would be cleared.

I could feel God has already set up a time that I would be released, Brodie said through an American Sign Language interpreter after the judge declared his innocence.

If the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals approves today s ruling by State District Judge Lena Levario, Brodie will become the third man in Dallas County cleared without DNA evidence.

Brodie sat almost expressionless through a hearing that lasted more than three hours today. But when Levario began saying listing items she agreed showed he did not commit the crime, Brodie began to smile.

He wiped away tears when Levario found him innocent.

It is unclear whether prosecutors knew about the print match and hair and did not tell Brodie s attorney or whether police failed to turn over the information to the district attorney's office. Information that could benefit a defendant is legally required to be handed over following a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Brady vs. Maryland.

Brodie has served his sentence for the sex crime, but he was convicted in Lamar County for failing to register as a sex offender. Lamar County District Attorney Gary Young said he would ask a judge to overturn that conviction so that Brodie could be released without spending more time behind bars.

He would be the second exoneration in Richardson and the second Dallas County case where a defendant was exonerated after falsely confessing to a crime. The county also has 20 DNA exonerations more than any other county in the nation since 2001 when Texas began allowing post-conviction genetic testing.

His attorney, Dallas County public defender Michelle Moore, said that Brodie was interrogated for 18 hours over eight days by Richardson police, and only half of the time was there a sign language interpreter present.

Moore said that Brodie also confessed to a crime that Dallas police made up when they were questioning him, a point that would raise doubts about whether his confession to an actual crime was legitimate.

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