FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Brotherhood of the Exonerated

by ANTHONY PAPA

As an activist, I receive many requests for help from people who suffer from injustice or are imprisoned. Recouping lost freedom is the ultimate goal, but it is rarely achieved. However, once in a blue moon, through determination and help from others, this goal is met.

Last year, a friend, German Rivera sent me a letter from a mutual friend who was serving a 25 years-to-life sentence for a 1989 shotgun murder committed in a crack house in Brooklyn. In his letter, William Lopez strongly maintained his innocence and asked if I could help him. I remember Willie from Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, N.Y., where I was serving time for a drug law violation. He had a wife and a year and a half-old daughter. I wrote him back and asked him to send me some paperwork outlining his case. As I read through the stack of papers he sent, I could only imagine how he felt to spend over two decades in prison for a crime he swore he did not commit.

Several months later I received another letter from Willie:

“Dear Papa: It has been a little while since I last wrote and particularly because of the circumstances that have arisen, I though why not reach out to Papa for possible support. As you were probably informed by German, yes, I have been in prison for nearly a quarter of a century for a murder I did not commit. April 17, 2012 a Federal Judge out of the Eastern District granted me a hearing that is rarely given. In other words, it’s like hitting the lottery.”

On Jan. 23, 2013 Willie Lopez did indeed hit the lottery when he walked out of federal court as a free man when Judge Nicholas Garaufis threw out his murder conviction. In his decision Judge Garaufis said, “What is far from close in the court’s view is that Lopez has been wronged by the State of New York. This wrongdoing has ranged from an overzealous and deceitful trial prosecutor; to a series of indolent and ill-prepared defense attorneys; to a bewildering jury verdict; and to the incomprehensible Justice Demarest, who so regrettably failed time and time again to give meaningful consideration to the host of powerful arguments Lopez presented to her. The result is that a likely innocent man has been in prison for over twenty-three years. He should be released with the State’s apology.” You can read the full decision here.

Willie’s hard work and perseverance had paid off. While in prison Willie served the prison population as a jail house lawyer and learned the law to help him overturn his conviction. His appeals lawyers at Levitt & Kaiser Lopez managed to convince the Judge Garaufis that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel from his original attorney. One of his strongest supporters who helped him regain his freedom was Jeffrey Deskovic who had also been exonerated after serving 16 years for a murder he did not commit. When released from prison he founded the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, an organization created with commitment to preventing wrongful convictions.

The law firm contacted the foundation and requested investigative assistance. The big break came about when the foundation uncovered evidence of Lopez’s innocence. According to Deskovic, the foundation used its connections in the Dominican Republic to locate a witness that testified via Skype, which helped convince the judge of Lopez’s innocence. During the stressful process of trying to overturn his conviction Willie turned to the foundation for moral support, calling collect to its office several times a week for half a year and speaking with Jeffrey and members of his staff.

“The Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation is very proud to have been involved in helping to undo the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of William Lopez, an innocent man from Brooklyn, who spent nearly a quarter of a century behind bars in an all too frequent example of extreme prosecutorial misconduct,” Jeffrey told me. “This outcome is a prime example of what can happen when agencies engaged in undoing wrongful convictions collaborate to bring the truth to an objective court.”

On Feb. 5, the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation held an event at their office for Willie Lopez where he shared his story. The event was attended with invited guests and media. Willie was there with his wife and passionately spoke about his ordeal and how he now wanted to go forward in his life. His dream is to get a job as a paralegal, buy a car and go on a long drive to enjoy his newly found freedom.

In the meantime, as part of their mission in raising awareness of cases of injustice and seeking legislation to prevent wrongful convictions in both DNA and non-DNA cases, the foundation has provided Willie with additional assistance which includes getting him an apartment, health care and a counselor to help him the trauma of his ordeal. This is unique and very important, as there is no other organization that exists that provides such services to those are exonerated once they are released.

Despite Lopez’s good fortune he is not completely out of the woods yet. Although he is free, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office was given 60 days to retry or drop the indictment. Charles Hynes, Brooklyn’s long-time District Attorney had told The New York Times that he is considering an appeal.

I’ve known Charles Hynes for many years in my work as an activist fighting the Rockefeller Drug Laws. He is a good man and did some excellent work as District Attorney, such as creating an Drug Treatment Alternative-to-Prison (DTAP) in 1990. It was the nation’s first prosecution-run program based on the premise that chronic offenders will return to society in a better position to resist drugs and crime after treatment than after spending a comparable amount of time in prison at nearly twice the cost.

Friends and family of Willie Lopez are hoping D.A. Hynes gives him a chance to experience the freedom he deserves.

Anthony Papa is an artist, writer, and  Manager of Media Relations for the Drug Policy Alliance.

 

Anthony Papa is the Manager of Media and Artist Relations for the Drug Policy Alliance and the author of This Side of Freedom: Life After Lockdown.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious madness in Ulster
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
January 19, 2017
Melvin Goodman
America’s Russian Problem
Dave Lindorff
Right a Terrible Wrong: Why Obama Should Reverse Himself and Pardon Leonard Peltier
Laura Carlsen
Bringing Mexico to Its Knees Will Not “Make America Great Again”
John W. Whitehead
Nothing is Real: When Reality TV Programming Masquerades as Politics
Yoav Litvin
Time to Diss Obey: the Failure of Identity Politics and Protest
Mike Whitney
The Trump Speech That No One Heard 
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail