A New Yorker was freed Thursday after serving more than 20 years in prison for the murder of a rabbi that the authorities now say he did not commit.

David Ranta was sentenced to 37 years behind bars after being convicted in 1991 of killing an Orthodox Jewish rabbi during a botched robbery. He always maintained his innocence.

The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office announced an internal probe had found evidence unavailable during the trial that cleared the imprisoned man.

"After conducting exhaustive investigation, (the office) concluded that the foundation upon which Mr Ranta's conviction was based had been eroded and that no remaining evidence could lead to Mr Ranta's conviction, were he to be retried," District Attorney Charles Hynes said.

After being declared free by a judge, Ranta told journalists he was overwhelmed.

"As I said from the beginning, I have nothing to do with this case," he said.

"Right now, I feel like I'm underwater, swimming... This is overwhelming."

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[Hands of a prisoner via Shutterstock]