LOS ANGELES — A man imprisoned 16 years for rape and sex assault convictions was exonerated Monday and ordered freed after DNA evidence linked the crimes to a serial rapist on the FBI’s most wanted list.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Ryan granted a petition to release Luis Vargas, who was serving a sentence of 55 years to life in prison for a forcible rape and two attempted rapes.

Vargas broke down, placing his hand to his forehead and covering his eyes as the judge ordered the case dismissed during the brief hearing packed with family and law school students who had worked to free him.

Vargas, 46, who was taken back into custody because of immigration issues, told his lawyers to tell his family not to worry and that he would be home soon, said attorney Alex Simpson of the California Innocence Project.

“I’m sure they’ve been worrying for the past 16 years about what’s going on with this case, whether or not we’ll ever see today,” Simpson said. He’s very, very thankful that we’re here today.”

His lawyers expect he’ll be released by immigration authorities because he was a legal resident at the time of arrest and the matter is connected to a conviction that has now been reversed.

Lawyers and students for the innocence project at California Western School of Law took up the case after Vargas got in touch in 2012 and said he thought he was wrongly convicted of crimes that were the work of the so-called Teardrop Rapist.

Prosecutors conceded new evidence pointed “unerringly to innocence.” It was also a case of mistaken identity, Deputy District Attorney Nicole Flood said in a letter to the judge.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.