For years, when she’d walk into her downtown St. Paul office, criminal defense lawyer Deborah Ellis would see a photo of Louisiana death row inmate Glenn Ford perched at eye level on the reception desk.  It was “a reminder to fight the good fight,” she said.

On Tuesday night, Ellis watched on television as Ford, 64, walked out of Louisiana State Prison in Angola. He was one of the longest-serving death row inmates in U.S. history to be exonerated and released. “I’ve been crying ever since,” Ellis said.

The rare and dramatic moment came hours after a judge granted the state’s request to vacate Ford’s murder conviction. And it came after three decades of exhausting, discouraging work and failed legal appeals by Ellis and other attorneys, including several from Minnesota. In 1984, Ford, who is black, was convicted of first-degree murder by an all-white jury in the November 1983 killing of Isadore Rozeman in his jewelry store-home in Shreveport, La.