Bronx Man has Conviction Overturned

Rafael Ruiz celebrates from being exonerated from a crime he did 25 years in jail for.
Photo Courtesy Sameer Abdel-Khalek/Innocence Project

A Bronx man who spent 25 years in jail was finally exonerated for a crime he did not commit.

On Wednesday, January 28, Rafael Ruiz, 60, who was incarcerated from 1985 to 2009, had a huge load taken off his shoulders when the Manhattan Conviction Integrity Program and the Innocence Project overturned his conviction.

In 1985 Ruiz was accused of a sexual assault that took place in East Harlem.

He was offered a plea deal, where he would have done 18 months to three years in jail, but declined, maintaining his innocence.

Seema Saifee, one of the attorneys from the Innocence Project, said the non-profit took on his case in 2007.

“We received Mr. Ruiz’s case and immediately thought his trial’s facts were misleading and he was innocent,” Saifee said.

Saifee told the Bronx Times there were several problems with his case.

First off, because DNA testing did not exist in the 1980s, his rape kit was never tested. So, they immediately tracked the kit down and quickly showed he did not commit the crime when his DNA didn’t match.

The victim also identified the wrong apartment and assailant.

She said that the person was black and named Ronnie, who then drove her to the building where Ruiz’s brother resided. However, Ruiz never went by the name Ronnie, doesn’t drive and isn’t black.

There was a man named Ronnie at the time who lived in another apartment, who was known to do drugs and often beat his girlfriend.

“It was one of the worst identifications we’ve ever seen,” Saifee said.

From there the case falls apart even more. The victim was shown an array of photos of her possible assailant and all of them were black men with Afros, except Ruiz who is Puerto Rican with long curly hair.

Then she was asked to identify him through a line-up mirror, where he was wearing the same clothes as the photo.

“So of course she was going to identify him,” Saifee exclaimed.

How could a man who didn’t fit the description of the perp be locked up for the crime?, she said.

According to Saifee, even though Ruiz was let out of jail in 2009, it was their organization’s goal to prove he didn’t commit the crime.

While it took 13 years, it was worth it.

She stressed that Ruiz never gave up hope.

“This case highlights the need to do more testing of evidence,” she said.

The Innocence Project, founded in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck at Cardozo School of Law, seeks to exonerate the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reforms the criminal justice system to prevent future injustices.

Created in 2010 by District Attorney Cyrus Vance, the Conviction Integrity Program is the first of its kind in New York City.

It investigates post-conviction claims of innocence, and prevents wrongful convictions from happening in the first place.

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