TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Nearly five years after being released from prison for a murder and rape he didn’t commit, Larry Leroy Peterson is finally free to start his life anew at age 59.

New Jersey has agreed to pay him $1 million to settle a civil suit.

“It gives him a good chance to start anew and try and rebuild his life,” his lawyer, William Buckman, told The Associated Press.

Buckman first publicly confirmed the settlement to The Philadelphia Inquirer. The settlement was completed Dec. 24, he said.

Peterson was convicted in 1989 of the rape and murder two years earlier of 25-year-old Jacqueline Harrison in Pemberton. A jury spared him the death sentence and a judge ordered him to spend 40 years in prison.

His case became a major cause for nearly a decade for Innocence Project at the Cardozo School of Law in New York, which uses DNA evidence to try to free the wrongly convicted.

Finally, in 2005, a judge vacated the conviction and Peterson was allowed to be free on bail, because DNA evidence did not support his conviction. He wore a plaid shirt on the hot August day when he was released and spoke of wanting to get behind the wheel of a car again for the first time in almost two decades.

State prosecutors still sought to retry him, though. They dropped the charges in 2006 after an inmate who claimed Peterson had bragged about the crime recanted.

Peterson was used as a prime example in 2007 of flaws with the death penalty. New Jersey abolished it that year.

Buckman said he believed Peterson could have gotten a larger settlement from the state, but said Peterson wanted to solve the matter quickly.

Peterson had been living in Bucks County, Pa., and working as a courier, Buckman said. The lawyer said Peterson has considered moving farther from New Jersey, but would not say whether he has. “New Jersey, understandably, doesn’t hold a lot of good memories for him,” Buckman said.

Buckman also would not say what he’s doing with the $1 million.

“This has been a harrowing experience,” Buckman said. “He’s going to try as best as he can to put this behind him.”
Harrison’s killer, meanwhile, was never found.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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