LOS ANGELES, AUG. 18 -- A man who escaped from a Virginia prison camp 41 years ago and started a new crime-free life in southern California was pardoned yesterday by Gov. Gerald L. Baliles and walked out of court a free man.

Affirming that "justice does work," a smiling Municipal Judge Glennette Blackwell ordered 62-year-old Vincent Pelliccia released. Blackwell had received word of the pardon moments before Pelliccia's extradition hearing was to begin.

Pelliccia emerged from the courtroom, hugged waiting relatives thanked his supporters and affirmed his belief in the U.S. system of justice.

"To all the people who have helped, especially the media, I say thank you," Pelliccia said. "Only in America could I be standing here and have my right to speak in front of cameras."

Pelliccia, a retired electrician, was arrested Aug. 4 after a records check revealed he had escaped from a prison camp in May 1946. He had served a few months of a 10-year sentence for a Norfolk burglary.

Baliles said further prosecution of Pelliccia would serve no useful purpose. "This is a very unusual case, and I believe the decision is appropriate because of the evidence and circumstances concerning Pelliccia," he said.