Raleigh, N.C. — Wrongfully convicted of raping a 12-year-old girl in Goldsboro, Dwayne Dail served 18 years in prison before DNA evidence cleared him of the crime in 2007.
Now, he counts every day as a blessing.
"I've been free for two years, one month and one day," he said Tuesday at a rally in Raleigh calling for the release of a man whom supporters says is also serving time for a crime he didn't commit.
After his release, Dail moved to Florida to start a new life and to try to get to know his 18-year-old son. He planned to go back to school and move forward with his lfie.
But it hasn't been as easy as he thought.
"The hardest part is to just put one foot in front of the other and move in the free world as a free man," he said. "It's difficult."
Two years, one month and one day later, he says he's still trying to get his life back.
"It's the mental independence that I've just recently gotten (back), because I've needed help for so long," he said.
Despite his path, he says he still has faith in justice. He now travels the country giving lectures and helping to fight for others who have been wrongly convicted.
"When someone is innocent, we can move to get them out quickly rather than compounding the injustice that's already been done."
After two years one month and one day, Dail says he's ready to go back to school now to study criminal justice. He wants to work in a district attorney's office.
"I believe I would be a great investigator of the facts and make sure the facts are the facts and not just what is being presented as the facts," he said. "That's what I would love to do."
He says he sees every day of freedom as a day to make a difference.
The state of North Carolina has since paid Dail more than $350,000 as compensation for his wrongful incarceration.
That brought a change in state law in 2008, when the General Assembly increased compensation from $20,000 a year to $50,000, with a cap at $750,000. There also provisions to pay for job skills training and waiving tuition.
Another man, William Jackson Neal Jr. has since been indicted in the case. He is already serving a maximum prison sentence of 93 months in Johnston County for a conviction on a habitual felon charge.
Dail says his one regret about his case is that while the state compensated him for the time he served in prison, no one ever apologized for what happened.