Convict in 3 Sex Crimes Freed by DNA Tied to Fugitive Rapist

24 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

California man’s rape convictions exonerated, ordered freed.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A man imprisoned 16 years for rape and sex assault convictions was exonerated Monday and ordered freed after DNA evidence linked the crimes to a serial rapist on the FBI’s most wanted list.A Los Angeles judge on Monday overturned the conviction of a man who spent 16 years in prison for sexual assault and other charges, after new DNA evidence cleared him of the crimes and linked them to the notorious “Teardrop Rapist.” A weeping Luis Vargas, 46, was ordered released from state prison following the hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court, but will be transferred to federal custody while U.S. authorities investigate his immigration status. “I’m happy but I’m sad that I can’t take him home. The California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law took Vargas’ case in 2012 and found that DNA showed the crimes were actually committed by the so-called Teardrop Rapist, who is known for a tattoo of a teardrop under his eye.

DNA tests last year on evidence from one of the attacks excluded Luis Lorenzo Vargas, 46, as a suspect and pointed instead to an unidentified man who has been dubbed the “teardrop rapist” wanted in dozens of sexual assaults, the attorneys said. Vargas broke down, placing his hand to his forehead and covering his eyes as the judge ordered the case dismissed during the brief hearing packed with family and law school students who had worked to free him. Superior Court Judge William Ryan threw out Vargas’ conviction based on DNA evidence taken from the shorts and underwear of one of three victims in the string of attacks, which was found to exclude him as the perpetrator.

Ryan to release Vargas, saying the office “no longer has confidence in the convictions.” At a hearing Monday afternoon, Vargas appeared in a downtown courtroom handcuffed and dressed in blue jail scrubs. He’s very, very thankful that we’re here today.” His lawyers expect he’ll be released by immigration authorities because he was a legal resident at the time of arrest and the matter is connected to a conviction that has now been reversed.

Hopefully, this new evidence will help police catch the true perpetrator.” Prosecutors joined attorneys for Vargas in asking that Ryan reverse the guilty verdicts, saying that less sophisticated DNA testing available in 1999 would not have been able to exonerate him. On the day of his sentencing in 1999, Vargas told the court, “I’m concerned (the) individual (who) really did these crimes might really be raping someone out there, might really be killing someone out there.” In assaults going back to 1996 on victims ranging between 14 and 41 years old, the suspect in most of the cases tried to engage in conversation with a woman walking to work or school, then pulled a weapon, forced her into a secluded area and sexually assaulted her, officials have said.

His most striking characteristic is the tattoo some victims have reported seeing on his face, though even that was shrouded in uncertainty, with some remembering it on one side of his face and some on the other, and some reporting one teardrop, others two. Vargas’ case again highlights the importance of DNA evidence in the criminal justice system as well as the questionable reliability of eyewitness identification. An attorney for Vargas said it was not clear how long his client, who holds a green card conferring him permanent resident status, would be detained over immigration issues. Vargas was accused of similar crimes and convicted of kidnapping, forcibly raping and sodomizing one woman and attempting to rape two others between February and June 1998.

It is the No. 1 factor in wrongful convictions across the country.” Prosecutors conceded it was a case of mistaken identity and that new evidence pointed “unerringly to innocence,” Deputy District Attorney Nicole Flood said in a letter to the judge. Crystal Nunez-Vargas, who clenched her 7-year-old daughter’s hand, said she had missed out on having him there for the father-daughter dances at Latina coming-of-age parties, graduations and his granddaughter’s birth. She got legally married, but she put the ceremony on hold for one of those important parts. “I’m waiting for him to come home so I can do my big church wedding and be able to have him walk me down the aisle, which is every little girl’s dream,” she said. “I can’t wait for that.” And prosecutors also noted a discrepancy in the victims’ descriptions: Two victims said their attacker had two teardrops tattooed beneath his left eye.

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