NEW ORLEANS — A judge was correct in a decision that led to freedom last year for a man who spent 36 years in prison for a French Quarter murder he long maintained he didn't commit, a federal appeals court panel ruled Friday.

John Floyd had argued that police beat a confession out of him in the 1980 stabbing death of William Hines.

Floyd, 68, walked free last June after U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance's earlier ruling that he must be re-tried or freed. District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's office had agreed to Floyd's release while it appealed the judge's decision to toss out his 1982 conviction and life sentence.

A spokesman for Cannizzaro said the office would have no comment until next week, after the ruling could be reviewed.

Vance cited physical evidence that the defense said pointed to a killer of a different race and blood type than Floyd, who is white. The ruling also said police withheld some evidence, including relevant fingerprint evidence and a witness statement that could be seen as helpful to the defense.

On Friday, a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel upheld Vance in a 2-1 ruling.

Judges Rhesa Hawkins Barksdale and Stephen Higginson supported Vance, with Barksdale writing that "any theory supporting the conclusion that the withheld, favorable evidence was immaterial is an unreasonable application" of law requiring prosecutors to turn over evidence favorable to defendants.

Judge Jerry E. Smith dissented with an opinion discounting the importance of the evidence and arguing that the other panel members were misapplying the law.