Judge Susan Hawk apologized to James Curtis Williams and Raymond Jackson after she declared both men formally innocent of aggravated sexual assault. Williams and Jackson were convicted of attacking a woman outside a Dallas bar in November 1983 and sentenced to life in prison. Both men were recently paroled.
"I hope that you feel like justice was served for you today," Hawk said.
Williams and Jackson shook hands with Hawk and Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, who also apologized. With 10 other exonerated men watching in the audience, Watkins questioned the criminal justice system's fairness and whether blacks were being mistreated.
"I think we see the similarities in these men and the two that are being exonerated today that has not been addressed," said Watkins, who is black. "We need to address that here in Dallas County, in our state and in this country. We are doing something wrong with our criminal justice system and we need to fix it."
Dallas County has now exonerated 32 people since 2001, most of them during Watkins' tenure. Most of the cases -- including Monday's -- involved faulty eyewitness identifications.
Authorities say the woman was forced into a vehicle at gunpoint, sexually assaulted, shot and left for dead in a field.
Williams and Jackson were included in a photo lineup in the case because they had been implicated in a separate sexual assault. The victim picked them out of the photo lineup and later identified them in court. They were convicted in January 1984.
But DNA from the woman's clothing and a rape kit exam was preserved and later tested. The results implicated two other men, Frederick Anderson and Marion Doll Sayles. They have been charged with attempted capital murder, which does not have a statute of limitations, authorities said.
Jackson, 67, said he was already out on parole when the test results came back, clearing him and Williams. He did not blame the victim.
"She just made a mistake in identity, and I'm just thankful that they had DNA and kept ours," Jackson said Monday.
The Associated Press typically does not identify victims of sexual assault.
Williams and Jackson pleaded guilty in the other sexual assault case and served shorter sentences for that. Jackson is still on parole for a robbery committed in 1970. He said he hoped to start a business.
Williams said things were "very complex," but that his life had been greatly changed.
"It inspires me to do to the same, to go on with my life and do good to others," he said.