A 61-year-old Californian man who spent 32 years in prison for a murder he did not commit has been exonerated, clearing the way for his release, officials said.
Joaquin Ciria was arrested in 1990, convicted of first-degree murder and handed a life sentence for the death of Felix Bastarrica, who was shot in the head after an argument in a San Francisco alley.
However, the conviction was based on false witness testimony and police misconduct, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin said.
The case against him has now been dismissed after a judge overturned his conviction.
‘You have a chance to take back your life’
Mr Ciria’s case is the first exoneration, prompted by the District Attorney’s Innocence Commission, which was established in 2020 to review potential wrongful conviction cases.
“Thirty-two years ago, you were taken away from your wife and your baby, and that is because the system failed you catastrophically,” Lara Bazelon, chair of the commission, said during a news conference with Mr Boudin and members of Mr Ciria’s family.
“Now at long last, you have a chance to take back your life”, she added.
‘A cascade of errors’ in handling of case
An 18-month investigation by the commission located new witnesses and evidence and found “a cascade of errors” in how the case was handled, including police coercion of the key witness, who was a teenager at the time, Ms Bazelon said.
Ms Bazelon, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, added that “no DNA, no fingerprints and no murder weapon” were ever recovered and Mr Ciria had always maintained his innocence.
She said he had two alibi witnesses who said he was home at the time of the murder but they were never called by the defence, possibly because they only spoke Spanish.
Felix Bastarrica was actually killed by a mutual acquaintance of the two men.