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:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Phillip Kim et al.
Open Letter to Bernie Sanders from Former Campaign Staffers
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Convention Con
Lewis Evans
Executing Children Won’t Save the Tiger or the Rhino
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
Chris Odinet
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
David Rovics
The Republicans and Democrats Have Now Switched Places
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Rev. William Alberts
“Law and Order:” Code words for White Lives Matter Most
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Artistic Representation of War and Peace, Politics and the Global Crisis
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Elliot Sperber
Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Kathleen Wallace
Feel the About Turn
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
Charles R. Larson
Review: B. George’s “The Death of Rex Ndongo”
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail