Friday, January 31, 2020

Rape Kit Test Exonerates Man Imprisoned For 25 years

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We hear a lot about the rape-kit backlog in America. Many activists believe that getting through the backlog will help put rapists behind bars. That might certainly be the case, but another reason to get through the backlog is to exonerate wrongfully imprisoned men.

In 1984, an 18-year-old woman was raped by three men on the roof of a housing project in Manhattan, The Washington Post reported. The woman would eventually lead police to the apartment where Rafael Ruiz was staying when the attack occurred.

She told police that on the day of the rape she had met a man her boyfriend knew while out in the Bronx. She knew the man as “Ronnie,” and he took her to the 16th floor of the building, where two other men joined him and they forced her onto the roof to take turns raping her. The woman later showed police the apartment where Ronnie had gathered the other two men. When police knocked on the door, Ruiz’s brother and sister-in-law answered, and told police Ruiz and one of the other brothers had visited recently. Police found Ruiz and brought him in for questioning. They took his picture and used it in a photo lineup to show the victim. The photo array proved to be leading, as Ruiz was the only man included with a hairstyle that had been described by the victim, the Post reported. She identified him and was then taken into a room to personally identify him from the other side of a one-way mirror. Ruiz was wearing the same clothes as in his photo, which made it easier for the victim to mis-identify him.

“Ruiz was charged with rape, sodomy, sexual abuse and robbery. No one else was ever indicted in connection with the assault,” the Post reported.

Ruiz refused to take a deal and was convicted in 1985 and sentenced to a maximum of 25 years in prison. He served his full term and was released in April 2009, the Post reported. He was also required to register as a sex offender for life.

Former district attorney William Tendy Jr. attempted to reinvestigate Ruiz’s case while he was in prison. He found a man he believed was the real “Ronnie,” who lived on the same floor of the apartment building where Ruiz had been identified and better fit the description of the man who led the assault. Tendy believed the victim identified the wrong man and contacted the Innocence Project. They, along with the conviction review unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, reinvestigated the case and were able to get the rape kit tested. DNA was not widely available in 1984, but the victim’s rape kit had been preserved for 25 years, allowing scientists to test it and determine that Ruiz could not have been one of the attackers.

On Tuesday, Ruiz was finally exonerated. He told the Innocence Project he wanted to dance to celebrate.

“Sometimes when I feel really happy, I just do it,” he said. “I don’t care about my knees or anything. I just do a little break dance.”

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