STOCKTON -- "I'm going fishing," Peter Rose told a host of media members Friday when they asked what he would do after being officially cleared of a decade-old Lodi rape.
Minutes earlier, San Joaquin County Judge Stephen Demetras had granted a petition for a finding of factual innocence.
What the ruling means for Rose is that prosecutors and a judge agree that he did not commit the rape for which he spent 10 years behind bars.
The arrest and conviction will be erased from his record, though his attorney said in court that it doesn't fix everything.
"This is a day of celebration for Mr. Rose and his family, but it's also a day to reflect," said Janice Brickley, with the Northern California Innocence Project.
"Life in prison is a nightmare for most everyone. However, for someone who is in prison for the rape of a minor, it is hellish," she continued.
Rose, now 37, was arrested three weeks after a 13-year-old Lodi girl was raped Nov. 29, 1994, while on her way to school. He was convicted and sentenced to 27 years in state prison, where he continued to maintain his innocence.
"I just knew it was all going to work out," he said after Friday's court appearance, which was attended by several friends and family members, including the oldest of his four children.
Nobody has publicly apologized to Rose but, with the full exoneration, California law states that he could now be entitled to more than $300,000 for the time spent in prison.
Ashley Rose, 16, explains Friday how difficult it was to have her father taken away when she was so young. (Angelina Gervasi/News-Sentinel)
When students and professors with the Innocence Project at Golden Gate University in San Francisco saw Rose's case, they began investigating it more closely.
"We were looking for evidence, not knowing if it existed -- fearing the worst," said Emily Vena, a law student who worked on the case for about a year.
The students, under the direction of Brickley and Director Susan Rutberg, finally tracked down a cutting from the victim's underwear. Then they filed motions, which Demetras granted, allowing new scientific testing that hadn't been available during Rose's trial.
DNA testing revealed that semen in the girl's underwear did not belong to Rose.
For Vena and her fellow students, it was a learning experience that soon consumed them with the desire to prove Rose's innocence.
"I was wishing I didn't have other classes, especially after meeting Pete," Vena said Friday outside court.
Though she's been studying around the clock in preparation for the Bar Exam next week, Vena drove to Stockton from San Francisco on Friday because she wanted to see the case end -- and to give Rose a hug.
Student George M. Derieg, of Alameda, also made the trip to see the case conclude.
For him, the experience even changed his career: Though he had planned to be a labor attorney because his father was a teamster for more than 30 years, Derieg now plans to become a public defender after he takes the Bar Exam in July.
"I grew up on the fact that police and district attorneys are full of 100 percent integrity. But that's a dangerous assumption to make about any large group," he said.
Peter Rose is questioned by the media about his thoughts Friday in Stockton. (Angelina Gervasi/News-Sentinel)
Most of the time, he said, prosecutors and police officers are honest and hard-working, but he pointed out that they make mistakes.
In the rape case, Rose's attorneys have pointed out police mistakes, including repeated interviews of the rape victim, who for three weeks denied that she knew her attacker. After a three-hour interview in which the detectives belittled her and accused her of lying, the girl named Rose, whom she knew through family friends.
"It was that pressure, and her trust of police, that led her to wrongly identify Mr. Rose," Rutberg said in court Friday.
On Thursday, Lodi police officials spoke publicly about the case, which they internally reviewed after Rose was freed from prison in November. The ranking officers acknowledge that some questions and accusations made toward the girl were inappropriate, but they said the detectives did that because the victim had changed her story and seemed to be hiding something.
Police officials have asked the state Attorney General's Office to review the case, and Rutberg on Friday said she wants a state criminal justice commission to look at the case. As in train wrecks and airplane crashes, she said, victims and families deserve an investigation to learn what went wrong.
"We're asking the court to look at this wrongful conviction as a train wreck of misjustice," she said.
The defense attorneys also said they are helping Rose prepare a claim with the State Board of Control.
Under state law, anyone proven to be wrongfully convicted of a felony can be compensated for the amount of time spent in prison. The Legislature makes the final decision, but the recommended tax-free compensation is $100 for each day spent in prison after being convicted.
Rose, who was convicted in November 1995, could receive roughly $330,000 if the claim is approved.
For Rose, who has previously told the News-Sentinel that his main focus is on being a good father, Friday's ruling of innocence came as no surprise.
"I just knew it was all going to work out," he said, addressing the media crews before leaving the courthouse and heading back to his home on the coast, where his mother is currently hospitalized in her fight against cancer.
The bright camera lights then turned toward Rose's 16-year-old daughter, who soon decided to find the nearest court exit, with the camera crews giving chase.
For the District Attorney's Office, which agreed that Rose should be found factually innocent, the focus now is on trying to develop a complete DNA profile to find the real rapist.
"We're definitely going to try," Deputy District Attorney Brian Short said after court.
Contact reporter Layla Bohm at firstname.lastname@example.org.