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22 Sep, 2014 20:35

NYC man dies after wrongfully spending 23 years in prison

NYC man dies after wrongfully spending 23 years in prison

A New York City man who served 23 years in prison for a crime he did not commit died unexpectedly over the weekend only three days before proceedings were slated to begin concerning his $124 million false imprisonment federal lawsuit.

William Lopez, 55, died on Sunday from an asthma attack, his lawyer told reporters this week. A pre-motion conference pertaining to his case had been scheduled for Monday, and proceedings were set to begin on Tuesday; the hearings have since been postponed until a representative could be appointed to the estate, attorney Dennis Kelly told the Associated Press.

Lopez served nearly a quarter-century in prison for murder before a judge threw out the conviction in January 2013 and said the case had been “rotten from Day 1.”

“[W]hat is far from close in the court’s view is that Lopez has been wronged by the State of New York,” Judge Nicolas Garaufis said early last year, citing in his 57-page decision, among other contributing factors, “an overzealous and deceitful trial prosecutor,” “a series of indolent and ill-prepared defense attorneys” and “a bewildering jury verdict.”

“In short, the prosecution’s evidence was flimsy to begin with and has since been reduced to rubble,” Judge Garaufis wrote. “The result is that a likely innocent man has been in prison for over 23 years. He should be released with the State’s apology.”

The Bronx man was originally found guilty of killing a drug dealer during an August 1989 altercation in Brooklyn and received a sentence of 25-years-to-life as a result. This past March, Brooklyn’s new district attorney, Kenneth Thompson, said his office “concluded that there is a sufficient possibility that Lopez is not guilty” and that pursuing an appeal after the conviction was overturned would be “contrary to the interest of justice.”

“My brother Bill was greatly bothered by the fact that his life was dramatically impacted by being wrongfully convicted, as well as his knowledge that many other wrongful convictions have taken place without any changes in the system,” Lopez’s brother, Eugene, told the New York Post this week.

The deceased’s wife, Alice, is expected to soon be appointed as a representative to Lopez’s estate where she may follow through with plans to seek $124 million over her husband’s incarceration. The two were married while Lopez was in prison and have a daughter who was only 14-months-old when the original sentence was served 25 years ago.

“In the 20 months of freedom he had after his release, he found some measure of happiness, spending time with his wife, Alice, and rediscovering simple pleasures, such as watching football with friends on Sundays,” the NY Post wrote of Lopez on Monday after speaking with friends of the man.

Earlier this year, Jonathan Fleming announced that would be suing New York City for $162 million after he was cleared of a separate 1989 murder conviction that kept him behind bars for nearly 25 years. Fleming’s release in April came only three months after Kenneth Thompson, the Brooklyn DA, released two other men from prison after they served 21 years each for a triple homicide they did not commit.