Everton Wagstaffe, who refused to leave prison on probation because he viewed it as a surrender of his claim of innocence in the death of a teenage girl, learned on Wednesday that he had prevailed in a struggle that he began from behind bars nearly 23 years ago.
A panel of state appeals court judges unanimously reversed the kidnapping convictions of Mr. Wagstaffe and his co-defendant, Reginald Connor, finding that Brooklyn prosecutors in 1992 and 1993 were responsible for “burying” documents that might have shown that detectives and the prime witness had lied. The panel also dismissed the indictments of the two men.
If the case comes to an end now, it would be the final chapter of an epic guerrilla legal battle waged by Mr. Wagstaffe. He entered prison with minimal literacy and taught himself to read. He then wrote hundreds of letters pleading for help in finding the physical evidence from the case so DNA testing could be done, and in finding missing witnesses. For much of that time, he had no legal counsel. He drafted his own legal papers and succeeded in being granted hearings, though not in getting any relief.
During a visit with Mr. Wagstaffe last year, he told me that he had fought to keep his bearings over the decades by reviewing every syllable committed to paper about the case and by soaking up works of philosophy and literature. His reading included “A Confession,” Leo Tolstoy’s memoir of his struggles with midlife despair.
“What is my life about?” Mr. Wagstaffe asked. “All this stuff, all this evidence of innocence, has been brought forth, and I think, ‘Yes, this is it — straight to the point, no way around it.’ But here I am, all these years later.”
“I have to generate patience and perseverance,” Mr. Wagstaffe said, adding a biblical citation: “ ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ ”