A Chicago man who spent nearly 20 years in prison for murder over a deadly 2003 shooting has been released after his identical twin confessed to the crime.

Kevin Dugar, now 44, broke down into tears as he was freed from the Cook County Jail on Tuesday night, Jan. 25, nine years after his twin brother Karl Smith, confessed to the gang-related 2003 slaying.

"The judge granted his release pending trial on a signature bond and he walked out into the open air and breathed his first breaths as a free man in almost 20 years," Ronald Safer told NBC News on Friday. "It was gratifying to watch his tears roll down his cheeks."

Dugar was convicted in 2005 for the 2003 murder of a rival gang member.

According to NBC Chicago, a gunman dressed in black had opened fire on three people near Sheridan Road and Argyle Street in March 2003, killing Antwan Carter and wounding Ronnie Bolden.

Bolden, who was shot three times, later identified the gunman as 'Twin', the moniker used by Smith and Dugar, who frequently impersonated each other, reports said.

Dugar was sentenced to 54 years in prison "for this crime he did not commit", Safer said.

"He is overjoyed to be free but is also adjusting to a world that is quite different from the world he left 20 years ago when he was arrested for this crime he did not commit," he told The Post.

The "stranger than fiction" plot twist happened in 2013 when Smith confessed to the murder in a letter he wrote to Dugar, nearly a decade after he was convicted.

"I have to get it off my chest before it kills me," Smith wrote. "So I'll just come clean and pray you can forgive me."

"I'm the one who shot and killed those two Black Stones on Sheridan that night."

"The reason I didn't say [expletive] at the time was because I didn't and couldn't find the strength to do so at the time," Smith said in the letter, admitted into evidence.

In 2016, when Smith testified to committing the crime, he was serving a 99-year sentence for taking part in a home invasion and armed robbery in which a 6-year-old boy was shot in the head in 2008.

"I'm here to confess to a crime I committed that he was wrongly accused of," Smith testified.

Prosecutors had questioned the motives behind his confession but Smith told the judge that he ‘found God’ in prison and realized he needed to set his ‘past wrongs right’, according to reports.

Describing the events, Smith said he opened fire with a .38-caliber handgun, saw Carter fall to the ground, and then pulled out his .32-caliber pistol and fired at Bolden as he backed up.

He said he then ran back to the friend's car and returned to the party, where Smith changed clothes and later went clubbing with his brother, he said.

After his brother's arrest, Smith said he maintained his innocence because he thought his brother would be cleared of the killing.

"I didn't have the strength to come forward," Smith said. "I thought it was the job of the police to catch me."

Despite the confession, a judge denied Dugar a retrial in 2018 ruling that Smith’s confession was not credible.

However, the Court of Appeals overturned the ruling after the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University appealed it.

"The Court of Appeals found that there is a strong probability that a jury hearing all of the evidence would likely find Kevin not guilty," Dugar’s attorney said.

Safer has since said they do not want Dugar's case retried.

"'This case is in a very different situation than it was 20 years ago," Safer said at a press conference. "Everybody knows much more about it."

"We are hopeful that the State does the right thing and dismisses this case. But if the State persists, we look forward to vindicating Kevin at trial," the attorney said.

Dugar will be staying at a residential transitional facility for 90 days, per the conditions of his release.

"People think there would be unmitigated joy over being free after 20 years. There is joy, but it comes with a host of emotions," Safer added. "It is a difficult adjustment, but Kevin is strong and he will persevere just as he has all these years because there is strength in knowing you are innocent."

Kevin Dugar
Kevin Dugar (left) was freed from the Cook County Jail in Chicago on Tuesday night. Karl Smith (right) came forward in 2016 to confess to the deadly shooting. Jail records.

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