By Brad Edwards

CHICAGO (CBS) — He’s been out of prison for fourteen months, but after Monday, James Kluppelberg finally feels free.

“It’s surreal,” Kluppelberg said to CBS 2 in his first interview. “It’s mind-blowing.”

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Originally convicted of the 1984 Chicago fire that killed a mother and her five children, Kluppelberg’s record will now be cleared of the charges. Despite dropping the case against him and urging his release in May 2012, the Cook County State’s Attorney fought the issuance of a certificate of innocence. However, this Monday, Judge Michael McHale granted Kluppelberg the all-important certificate.

“[The Judge said] that a grave injustice had been done to me,” Kluppelberg reflects. “I did a lot of crying when the Judge was reading his ruling.”

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Lawyer Karl Leonard was one of the team who worked to clear Kluppelberg. When asked about how many pro bono hours he donated to the case, he replies, “I don’t know exactly how many, but hundreds.”

Although out of prison, the past fourteen months were a struggle. Kluppelberg wasn’t able to find full-time employment with the 6 murder convictions on his record.

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“Very much unemployed, very much unemployable because people don’t understand what the word exonerated means,” said Kluppelberg. “Maybe they will understand the word innocent better now.”

Brad Edwards