After being wrongfully accused of rape, a man was finally exonerated after 25 years.
Rafael Ruiz was convicted and sentenced to eight to 25 years in prison after he was wrongly accused of taking part in a violent gang rape back in 1984. On Tuesday, he was formally cleared and exonerated of the crime. The incident happened in May 1984 when Ruiz was 24 and the victim 18. The woman was raped on a rooftop in Harlem, NBC New York reports.
The woman told officials that a man by the name “Ronnie” drove her to a building in the Robert F. Wagner Houses, a public housing complex in Harlem, according to NBC News. There on the building, she said at least three men brutally raped and beat her. When police returned to the scene of the crime, they saw Ruiz, who was living with his brother in one of the apartments. Her original description did not fit Ruiz, but she pointed him out in a lineup of photos. Ruiz argued that on top of not matching the description, he also cannot drive, mentioning that “Ronnie” could. Regardless of the lack of evidence and thorough investigation, Ruiz was sentenced to eight to 25 years and was released in 2009.
Like many men of color, prosecutors had offered Ruiz a plea deal in exchange for a shorter sentence of three years. But, Ruiz wasn’t going to sell himself out, and when he was freed, he wanted his justice to be served. “I didn’t take no-deal because I’m not a criminal,” said Ruiz. One of the attorneys believed the victim led the police to the wrong apartment, and police ultimately made Ruiz their target. More than a decade after Ruiz’s release, the Innocence Project found the victim’s rape kit from the case and analyzed Ruiz’s DNA samples with the victim’s. The two didn’t match. “It took us 13 years to prove this man’s innocence, and it took him 36 years,” said Seema Saifi of the Innocence Project.
Ruiz’s life has been cleared of the crime; however, he is now a victim of a racially biased justice system. The man says he still has trouble finding employment because of his incarceration. “My record is clean, and my life is given back to me, but what am I supposed to do?” Ruiz said. “I’ll just stay out of trouble and wait until something comes around.”