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Obie Anthony, freed after 17 years in prison, looks forward to Thanksgiving at home

Obie Anthony and his fiance, Denise Merchant, outside the Compton Superior Courthouse.
Obie Anthony and his fiance, Denise Merchant, outside the Compton Superior Courthouse.
Shereen Marisol Meraji/KPCC

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A man whose conviction was overturned after 17 years in prison now looks forward to his first Thanksgiving at home. Last week a judge in Compton declined to retry Obie Anthony after overturning his prior conviction for murder.

Anthony was convicted of murder when he was 19 years old, but he always insisted on his innocence.

The Northern California Innocence Project – with help from Loyola Law School's Project for the Innocent - took on his case and convinced a judge that the prosecution’s key witness, a pimp, had lied to the jury.

A judge overturned Anthony’s conviction and released him last month. Anthony said, "it's breathtaking, it's amazing, it's so, so, so relieving to be free, finally."

But Obie Anthony wasn't really free. Prosecutors had 60 days to retry him for the same murder.

At the Compton Superior courthouse Judge Kelvin Filer announced Anthony would not be retried and offered some words of wisdom:

"I want to leave you with something that my father used to always tell all of his children, and he was paraphrasing something that Winston Churchill said, and that was, 'Never, ever give up.'"

After 17 years behind bars, in fewer than three minutes, it was officially over.

Anthony's lawyers, fiance, sister and even the investigators who worked his case huddled in a tiny interview room to celebrate. There was lots of hugging, laughing and talk about the weight he's put on.

Anthony said, "there was only peanut butter for a nice little while and jelly in there and I've been eating, eating, eating."

The question of whether the state will compensate Anthony for the 17 years he spent in prison has yet to be settled.

His lead attorney Linda Starr said, "There are many roadblocks to getting any type of compensation for an exoneree, he's just now going to have to start considering how to go about looking into that."

Anthony said he's not ready for that process yet. Even the idea of compensation boggles his mind.

"It’s difficult to try to put any time of number, any type of phrasing on you losing seventeen years of your life. So to say, 'What are you owed?' Well the only thing you’re owed is what I have now, my freedom, the opportunity to be prosperous, to live, to work and have a family."

His sister Yolanda Taylor said his freedom, just in time for Thanksgiving, is pay-back enough.