The charges against Leighton Hay, a Toronto man convicted of an execution-style murder in 2002, were withdrawn this morning and he walked out of court a free man after more than 12 years in prison.

The Crown said it is no longer in the public interest to pursue the case. 

Hay, 19 at the time, was found guilty of first-degree murder in the July 2002 killing of 51-year-old Colin Moore. But he appealed based on forensic testing on hairs found in his apartment.

Hay's case was taken on by the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted in 2011, which called it "factual innocence."

Leighton Hay

Leighton Hay was 19-years-old when he was convicted of a murder he did not commit. (CBC)

“Leighton has been through a nightmare for all these years," said James Lockyer, the association's senior counsel, who said before Hay was released that his "walk into freedom today" would be "momentous for him." 

"This was a miscarriage of justice of the highest order,” Lockyer added.

Hay's lawyers have asked Justice John McMahon to apologize on behalf of the justice system.

Hair evidence key to case 

On July 6, 2002, Moore was hosting an event at a nightclub in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke. At 1:13 a.m. ET, two men armed with handguns stormed into the nightclub, and shot and killed Moore.

Police identified one of the gunmen as Gary Eunick. 

Eunick had borrowed the car of Hay’s mother and was driving it the night in question, according to police.

When police found the car at Hay's home, they arrested both Eunick and Hay.

Witnesses from the nightclub described the second gunman as having “two inch picky dreads” — longer hair than what Hay had at the time.

Leighton Hay leaves court

Leighton Hay and his father Lasalle walk from the Superior Court on Friday morning. (Michelle Cheung/CBC)

The Crown argued at his original trial in 2004 that Hay returned home after the shooting and had a haircut.

The police searched for evidence of a haircut at Hay's home, and found some very short hairs in a newspaper in a garbage bin and on an electric razor in his bedroom.

Hay's lawyers presented evidence at the appeal — the second appeal on the crime — that questioned whether Hay indeed got a haircut.

Hay's lawyers also highlighted one witness who identified Hay with “80 per cent” certainty as the gunman at the nightclub. Two weeks later, the same witness did not select Hay’s photo in a lineup.