NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - A Jefferson Parish man and his family are thrilled today that after 17 years behind bars, he’s a free man. Royal Clark Jr. walked out of the Gretna jail, thanks to newly uncovered evidence.
On one of the hottest days of the year, fresh air was never so sweet for Royal Clark.
Sixteen years after he was convicted for a 2001 Terrytown armed robbery of a Burger King, Clark walked free for the first time, and into the arms of his emotional family.
“I didn’t know I would see this moment...didn’t think I would ever see these streets again,” said Clark.
At his side...a 17-year-old son...who has been craving a Dad.
“Growing up without a father...for 17 years...it was hard..my mama couldn’t always be there for me, she had to work,” said Royal Clark III.
Clark’s freedom was made possible by the Innocence Project New Orleans and the Jefferson Parish District Attorneys office which recently allowed Clark’s attorneys to view other fingerprints taken from the scene of the crime.
“This is an indication of the need for prisoners to have access to fingerprint databases, right now, they don’t have one,” said attorney Kia Hall Hays, with the Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO).
The newly uncovered fingerprints implicated another man who looked like Clark and was convicted of committing a string of similar Westbank robberies during the same timeframe.
“I can’t be angry, because if I let myself be angry it would cloud my views on life,” said Royal Jr.
No one knows for sure how many other cases like Clark’s are out there but the Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO) wants laws changed so that convicts have full access to fingerprint data bases.
“I think it’s clear that this state needs a statute that allows anyone in prison to have the right to go to court and request that,” said Emily Maw, with IPNO.
Clark looks forward to catching up with a son born the year he went to jail.
"I want to enjoy my company with my new family...and get some crawfish, and chill out," said Clark..
And he says at 42-years-old, if he stays focused, he believes he will succeed outside of prison walls.
“Y’all gave me a second chance.. to show my innocence...and I’m proud to be out here,” said Clark
Royal Clark was convicted on a 10-2 jury vote, which is no longer allowed in Louisiana. He is the second person to be released in this state after new fingerprint evidence was made available through a state database.