January 23, 2013
His Conviction Overturned, Man Is Let Out of Prison After 23 Years
By MOSI SECRET
The Brooklyn district attorney’s office agreed on Wednesday to release a man who served 23 years in prison for murder, a week after a federal judge tossed out the man’s conviction, calling it “rotten from Day 1.”
William Lopez and his wife, Alice, following his release after 23 years in prison.
The man, William Lopez, 54, who has always maintained his innocence, emerged from State Supreme Court in Brooklyn to the frigid air and the flash of cameras, surrounded by a thicket of his supporters — and free.
“It feels great to be back on Earth,” Mr. Lopez said. “I’m looking forward to restoring my life as best as I can.”
But his case is not yet over.
The office of the district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, plans to appeal the federal judge’s decision and said it would consider retrying Mr. Lopez after conducting its own investigation. The move to appeal the federal ruling, coming as Mr. Hynes’s re-election campaign is heating up, puts off the resolution of the case for months, most likely until after the election in the fall.
The case began in 1989, Mr. Hynes’s first year in office, when two men burst into a drug den in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, and one of them shot a dealer named Elvirn Surria with a double-barreled shotgun. No murder weapon or forensic evidence was found at the scene, so the prosecution relied on two witnesses who had been there.
One was a drug courier at the house who gave a physical description of the assailant that did not resemble Mr. Lopez. The other was an unemployed addict who had just finished a crack binge when the murder happened. She secretly made an agreement with the prosecution to testify in exchange for leniency in her own drug case.
After more than two decades in prison, Mr. Lopez spent the last two days on edge, hardly sleeping, knowing that his release was probably imminent. Wednesday brought various procedural delays, as judges and court officers in two courthouses worked out how to release a man who just last week was considered a convicted murderer.
Nicholas G. Garaufis, the judge in Federal District Court in Brooklyn who tossed out the conviction, heard the case in the morning and sent Mr. Lopez to Kings County Supreme Court, where he was originally convicted, to be released. A judge there, Guy J. Mangano, heard the case in the afternoon, and would not release Mr. Lopez before making sense of the federal paperwork.
Amid the confusion, Mr. Lopez’s wife, Alice, could not hold back her tears.
After much back and forth, Judge Mangano raised both of his hands and said to Mr. Lopez, “You’re free to go.”
Mr. Lopez crossed the bar to the courtroom’s gallery, wearing a prison jumpsuit, his only clothes, and hugged and kissed his wife. Down the line he went, embracing the brother who looks like him, then the lawyer who argued his case, and then the friend and advocate who was released after serving time for a murder he did not commit and who gave him hope.
A reporter asked Mr. Lopez what he would do first. “Oh boy,” he answered. “This happened so quickly.”
“I don’t know,” he added. “I will take a breath of fresh air.”
||Truth in Justice