Jan. 29 (UPI) -- A man who was jailed for 25 years has been formally exonerated by the New York state Supreme Court after advanced DNA testing proved he was innocent of sexually assaulting a woman in 1984.
Rafael Ruiz was convicted in a gang rape that occurred in East Harlem in New York City and was sentenced to between eight and 25 years. He was ultimately released from prison in 2009 and had campaigned for years to clear his name, with help from the Innocence Project. Tuesday, the state's high court formally cleared of the crime based on a 2019 check of DNA testing.
The woman who was assaulted testified at trial in 1985 she was raped by at least three men on a Manhattan rooftop. Within two weeks of the crime, she led police to an apartment in the building she believed she'd visited before the rape. Police found Ruiz there, staying with his brother, and the victim later identified him as an attacker, although she'd expressed uncertainty.
Despite Ruiz's insistence he was innocent, he was arrested, tried and convicted.
Through the work of the Innocence Project, which aims to overturn wrongful convictions, and the Conviction Integrity Program of the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, it was determined that police likely visited the wrong apartment. They sought the boyfriend of a tenant who lived across the hall from Ruiz' brother, the innocence Project said in a statement.
Tuesday, the high court vacated his conviction and dismissed all charges. It noted that despite being free for 10 years, the 60-year-old Ruiz has been unable to find employment. In 1985, Ruiz had refused offers from prosecutors to reduce his sentence if he pleaded to lesser charges.
"I was a man who went to court and went to trial to prove his innocence, but I was treated like I was already guilty when I stepped in there," he recalled.
Of more than 367 wrongful convictions in the United States that were ultimately overturned by DNA evidence, nearly 70 percent involved erroneous identification by eyewitnesses, the Innocence Project said.