Dion Harrell's long nightmare is over. The Long Branch man who served prison time for a rape conviction in the 1990s, is exonerated through new DNA testing and will see his conviction vacated.

Monmouth County Courthouse
Monmouth County Courthouse (Ilya Hemlin, Townsquare Media NJ)

Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Chris Gramiccioni announced the decision Friday, crediting new technology for clearing Harrell of involvement in the 1988 attack.

"Mr. Harrell's 1992 conviction was based upon the best evidence available at that time," Gramiccioni said in a statement. "Advancements in science have now provided evidence of Mr. Harrell's innocence, and our duty to act is clear. Today, modern DNA technology has provided justice. We will be working collaboratively with Mr. Harrell's attorneys at the Innocence Project in New York to take the necessary steps to vacate the 1992 conviction."

The course of events culminates a long and tortuous road for the 49-year-old, and for the Prosecutor's Office, which consented to new tests by state forensics researchers in early 2015 after long contending that the verdict should stand.

Harrell, 22 at the time, was identified by the victim after the attack in a dark Broadway parking lot on September 18, 1988. The victim alleged that he dragged her to the lot, and stole her purse as he fled.

The original tests were conducted ad Monmouth Medical Center. The jury reached its conclusion, in part, to the victim's testimony and to blood type evidence that placed Harrell in the pool of people who possibly could have committed the assaut.

Harrell was sentenced to eight years in 1993, serving four before gaining parole.

DNA evidence was introduced in the US in 1987, within a year of the incident in Long Branch. New Jersey State Police began implementing it in 1992, the year Harrell was convicted. It was another two years before the FBI created its Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) forensic database.

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