A man who spent nearly 32 years behind bars in connection with the stabbing death of an Ottawa firefighter wept in court Thursday as the Crown officially withdrew murder charges against him and the judge issued an apology.

"I see nothing wrong in saying that I very much regret that all of this has occurred," said Ontario Superior Court Justice Lynn Ratushny.

"I apologize on behalf of the administration of justice."

Romeo Phillion was convicted of second-degree murder based on a confession he gave to police decades ago in connection with the death of firefighter Leopold Roy.

After years of proclaiming his innocence, the Crown officially withdrew the charges on Phillion's 71st birthday.

"It's a special day for me - my birthday. It's the best birthday I ever got," Phillion told CTV Ottawa on Thursday.

"I had an apology from the judge, which I waited 38 years for. And my life will be positive from now on."

Legal battle not over yet

Although the charges were dropped, Phillion was not awarded an acquittal and the idea of a new trial was shut down.

Still, Phillion said the fight to clear his name is not over yet.

"I got many more years to go. I'm not going to die tomorrow. I'm going to stick around. My lawyers will take care of the rest," he said.

Phillion's lawyer James Lockyer told CTV Ottawa his client has a very good case and deserves compensation for the years he spent in jail for a crime he didn't commit. Phillion is now considering suing the government for injustice.

"When he went in (to jail) the CN tower wasn't there. When he came out, he saw it for the very first time. I think that does help explain just how long it was this man was in prison," said Lockyer.

Phillion described his experience as one that stays with him each day.

"It's pretty hard. Every day you think about it. Every day you talk to people about it," Phillion told CTV Ottawa.

"Today, it's a big victory for me. When the judge said: 'I apologize for all the things you've been through' and all that, oh, it made me happy."

Appeal court strikes down conviction

Phillion's murder conviction was struck down by Ontario's top court in March 2009. The judge residing over the case ruled the prosecution withheld a key piece of evidence in Phillion's 1972 murder trial.

Appeal Court Justice Mike Moldaver found the Crown never told the defence that at one point investigators concluded Phillion was 200 kilometres away from the crime scene at a gas station in Trenton, Ont. at the time of the murder.

However, later in the investigation, police claimed they had debunked Phillion's alibi.

Phillion only discovered the information when a parole officer passed him the details in a brown envelope 25 years after he was convicted.

Moldaver ruled that if the jury at the 1972 murder trial had been given the information, the outcome of the trial may have been different.

Although the appeal court tossed out Phillion's murder conviction last year, the judge made it clear the ruling was not a declaration of innocence. A new trial would have to determine that.

Phillion was released from prison on bail in 2003, pending his appeal hearing. Even though he had the ability to seek parole during his jail term, he always refused it, saying it would be like an admission of guilt.

With a report from CTV Ottawa's John Hua and files from The Canadian Press