DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – A Fairborn man is officially declared wrongfully imprisoned after a legal battle that’s lasted more than 30 years.

56-year-old Dean Gillispie was officially declared a wrongfully imprisoned person Thursday morning in the Montgomery County Courthouse.

“I lost 31 of the best years of my life to get here today, and it’s an overwhelming experience to finally be able to have them say the words that should have been said a long time ago,” Gillispie said.

Gillispie was wrongly convicted and imprisoned 31 years ago for the rapes of three women. He was released in 2011, and exonerated of the crimes in 2017.

“Hopefully today will take you into the final chapter that has been your life the last 31 years, and that the next part will be a lot smoother and a lot quicker,” Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Susan Solle said.

This declaration is just the next step in the legal process, which moves to the Ohio Court of Claims.

“With the declaration of innocence that will officially be entered by the court today we can move forward with that lawsuit,” Gillispie’s attorney Michele Berry Godsey said.

The multi-million dollar civil action lawsuit will allow Gillispie to recover at least $40,330 dollars for each year in prison, recover lost wages, attorney fees and any other costs.

While today’s hearing officially allows Gillispie to regain his freedom, he said he is not free from the mental toll his imprisonment has taken.

“The money doesn’t fix me, it doesn’t fix the lost time, it doesn’t fix the mental anguish, and the PTSD I’ve got from this, it doesn’t do a thing for it,” Gillispie said.

Gillispie said after Thurday’s declaration, he will go back to surviving as the road to healing continues.

“It’s just the beginning of the next chapter, please God don’t let it be 31 years,” Gillispie said.

Gillispie is a client and board member of the Ohio Innocence Project, which helped him reach this point in his legal battle.

He said he plans to continue to represent everyone wrongfully convicted in Ohio.

“I’m standing for those people and the people who have not got out yet, who we are working on to get out, and it’s the same fight it’s the same battle of fighting a court that doesn’t respond,” Gillispie said.