Man in prison for 16 years in ‘teardrop rapist’ case has conviction tossed

24 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Man convicted of 3 sex assaults cleared by Los Angeles judge after DNA points to serial rapist.

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. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Ryan granted a petition to release Luis Vargas, who was serving a sentence of 55 years to life in prison for a forcible rape and two attempted rapes. 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.

Vargas, 46, who was taken back into custody because of immigration issues, told his lawyers to tell his family not to worry and that he would be home soon, said attorney Alex Simpson of the California Innocence Project. “I’m sure they’ve been worrying for the past 16 years about what’s going on with this case, whether or not we’ll ever see today,” Simpson said. 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.

Lawyers and students for the innocence project at California Western School of Law took up the case after Vargas got in touch in 2012 and said he thought he was wrongly convicted of crimes that were the work of the so-called Teardrop Rapist. Vargas told the court on the day of his 1999 sentencing, “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 cases dating back to 1996, the Teardrop Rapist approached girls or women in the early morning walking to work or school, pulled a weapon such as a gun or knife, forced them to a secluded area and sexually assaulted them, officials have said.

Vargas’ case again highlights the importance of DNA evidence in the criminal justice system as well as the questionable reliability of eyewitness identification. His most striking characteristic is the tattoo some victims have reported seeing on his face, though there are conflicting reports about which eye it is under or whether there is more than one tear.

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. No DNA evidence was collected from the other sexual assaults attributed to Vargas, but prosecutors had argued at his trial that there were so many similarities among the three cases that they had to have been committed by the same person. Prosecutors conceded new evidence pointed “unerringly to innocence.” It was also a case of mistaken identity, Deputy District Attorney Nicole Flood said in a letter to the judge.

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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