TAMPA (WFLA) – A Tampa man is free after spending three decades behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit.
The Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office reviewed the case and found they couldn’t stand behind the conviction.
It’s a moment Tony Hopps waited 31 years for, to walk out of prison a free man and embrace his family.
“My family made a big effort to support me. They believed in me and they stood by me,” said Tony Hopps in an interview with 8 On Your Side.
Hopps was convicted of an armed robbery of an elderly couple. The crime took place at the Tahitian Inn back in Tampa in 1990.
Hopps received a life sentence.
“When you fight for so long and you lose all your appeals, you don’t have no hope,” said Hopps.
Hopps told 8 On Your Side that he wrote a letter in 2019 to the State Attorney when he learned of a newly formed Conviction Review Unit.
This month, Hopps said he was contacted by the Innocence Project, and learned that The State Attorney and the unit had reviewed his case and found major issues.
The team uncovered problems with how the photo lineup used to identify him was handled. They also were able to corroborate that Hopps had an alibi.
“I broke down and started crying for about 30 minutes,” said Hopps when he learned the news that he would be getting out of prison.
“Our justice system makes mistakes sometimes, that’s the unfortunate truth, and it’s a prosecutor’s job to be part of the solution, rather than to just shrug our shoulders when we become aware of a problem. We should be proactive about fixing it, and that’s exactly what we did here,” said Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren.
Hopps said he enjoyed pizza with his attorney his first night of freedom.
He said he is grateful to experience freedom again.
“I got a job with my sister-in-law and I’m staying with my sister-in-law. I’m just going to work and live,” he said.
Since the Conviction Review Unit started in 2018, they have looked at 240 cases and overturned 21 convictions. The unit is one of only a few dozen across the country.