As a case of film, an American of Latin origin now has to think about what to do after spending 25 years in prison unjustly for a crime he did not commit.
His name is Rafael Ruiz, a 60-year-old New York Hispanic, who tries to think of an answer to the question of what his future will be. “I am a free man, but I have no money and nobody gives me work,” he said.
Born in the Bronx, of Puerto Rican parents, Ruiz was acquitted this week of the charges of sexual assault that weighed on him. In the 1980s he was accused of having participated in the rape of an 18-year-old woman on the roof of a Harlem building.
The New Yorker entered prison at age 25. He served all his sentence and got out of jail in 2009, but it took him another 10 years to prove his innocence and be exonerated.
Now, he still doesn’t know if he will sue the city and its policemen for being arrested and wrongly convicted.
The rape victim told police that a man named ‘Ronnie’ drove her to a public housing complex in Harlem. The same man took her to one of the apartments of the complex and then to the roof, where she was raped and beaten by at least three men.
One of Ruiz’s brothers lived in the same building and he visited him often. The victim identified Ruiz as one of her attackers in photographs that were shown of possible suspects even though he did not fit the description she had given at the beginning of the investigation. The woman had said that all her attackers were African-American, but Ruiz is Hispanic.
The authorities offered him the possibility to plead guilty and spend only a year and a half to three years in prison, but Ruiz refused and went to trial. He was sentenced to a sentence of eight to 25 years in prison.
The Hispanic spent so much time behind bars that his parents and some of his brothers died during that time. The jail was a violent place, where he was always alert because he could be beaten, he explained, sometimes with eyes filled with water. He was in four different prisons in the state of New York and a medium-level security facility.
“For 37 years I thought about that moment,” Ruiz said in reference to the day he was acquitted.
After being released, he was unable to find a job due to his stay in jail and ended up doing informal maintenance or cleaning work that he charged in cash. He lived with his sister Maria in the Bronx. With sadness, he explained that he has not been able to find a wife due to the history of his life.
“I don’t want to be angry, I don’t want to feel hate. I can’t,” he replied when asked if he still feels those feelings.
William Tendy, a lawyer who supported Ruiz in jail, began investigating the case again when the Hispanic was in prison. He discovered that at the time the crime was committed, a woman lived across the hall from the apartment in which Ruiz’s brother lived and that this woman had a boyfriend named ‘Ronnie’.
Tendy concluded that the victim had identified the wrong apartment on the 16th floor. Tendy passed her investigation to the “Innocence Project,” a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to fighting and defending prisoners who claim they are innocent.
The group and a unit of New York prosecutors managed to find the victim’s DNA evidence after their rape and were able to compare them with Ruiz’s DNA. He was not the same.
Seema Saifee, lawyer of the “Innocence Project”, said that no one has been able to find ‘Ronnie’ yet, whose name is also unknown. That case, however, is different from Ruiz, who is focused on trying to live his new life.
“I feel like a one-year-old child, like a baby … I return to society again, to catch up,” he said. (I)