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Man Wrongfully Convicted of Rape Exonerated 35 Years Later

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  • Rafael Ruiz was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman in 1985 and declined a guilty plea deal that could have granted him a shorter sentence.
  • He had been eligible for release since 1992 but refused to admit guilt before a parole board several times. 
  • After serving a 25-year sentence, Ruiz was released from prison in 2009 and spent the past decade fighting to clear his name. 
  • With help from the Innocence Project, the victim’s rape kit was tested in 2019, proving that Ruiz’s DNA was not a match. 
  • On Tuesday, a New York judge formally exonerated Ruiz of the crime.

Name Cleared

A wrongfully-convicted New York man who spent over two decades in prison was fully exonerated on Tuesday. 

Rafael Ruiz, 60, was found guilty in a gang rape case in 1985. He was sentenced to a maximum of 25 years in prison, and ultimately served all of it. Though he was released in 2009, Ruiz spent the last decade fighting to clear his name.

His efforts were rewarded this week when a judge formally exonerated him at a hearing in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. 

“I have my freedom and now I can go on with my life,” Ruiz told the Innocence Project, the nonprofit organization that helped him through the legal process.

Long Road to Justice

In 1984, a woman was sexually assaulted on a rooftop by three men in Manhattan, New York. Shortly after the attack, she pointed detectives to the apartment that she thought the men had come from. 

The unit she identified was the home of Ruiz’s brother, who told the authorities that Ruiz had recently visited. The police tracked down Ruiz and brought him in for questioning later that night, according to the Innocence Project.  

The victim picked out Ruiz’s photo from a picture line-up, identifying him as “Ronnie,” a name he never went by. Right afterward, the victim identified him again in a one-on-one identification through a one-way mirror, a method that has been criticized for being prone to error. 

Ruiz was convicted in 1985 and was originally offered a guilty plea deal that would significantly shorten his time behind bars. But he turned down the deal, adamant about maintaining his innocence.  

“I was a man who went to court and went to trial to prove his innocence, but I was treated like I was already guilty when I stepped in there,” Ruiz told the Innocence Project.

One of Ruiz’s attorneys with the Innocence Project, Seema Saifee, told ABC that Ruiz consistently maintained his innocence multiple times before a parole board over the years. Saifee said he only implicated himself one time in a desperate attempt to be released and see his mother, who was dying of cancer.

After Ruiz was incarcerated, he received legal help from an attorney named William M. Tendy, Jr. Years into working on the case, Tendy found another man who lived on the same floor of the apartment building where the woman was attacked. This individual fit the victim’s description of the attacker and his name was Ronnie. 

After this discovery, Tendy contacted the Innocence Project to take Ruiz’s case. The Conviction Integrity Program of the New York County District Attorney’s Office also joined in on the investigation.

Efforts from the two teams uncovered the victim’s untested rape kit in 2019, and after his DNA samples did not match, Ruiz’s innocence was finally proven.    

What’s Next for Ruiz

Ruiz’s exoneration brings a mixed swirl of emotions for him and his loved ones. 

“Yesterday was an incredibly happy day for Rafael,” Saifee told the Washington Post after the judge’s order. “But at the same time, it’s remarkably devastating.”

Ruiz currently lives in the Bronx with his brother. For the past ten years, he has had a difficult time finding a job because he was listed as a felon. Even with a clear record, he expressed worry about what his next professional steps will be.

Regardless, Ruiz looks ahead with a hopeful attitude and has even found positives in the situation. 

“I lost 25 years of my life because I insisted upon my innocence and rejected plea bargains. Today feels like a huge burden off my shoulders and I look forward to living a good life moving forward,”  Ruiz told the Innocence Project.

“I guess now I might be one of the cases or life stories in those law books that someone can use and hopefully it can help them out with their cases,” he added. “That makes me feel good because I would like to see [innocent] people who got accused of doing a crime not go back into the system or lose their families or loved ones.”

The Innocence Project set up a link to Ruiz’s Amazon Wish List for those wishing to support him in some way. 

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Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances

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Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.


One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down

After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.

The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.

Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.

A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.

The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.

In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.

The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.

A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.

Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye

“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.

Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.

Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.

“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.

When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.

“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”

On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.

On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.

Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)

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U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide

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India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.


One Million Dead

The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.

Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.

The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.

By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.

The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.

The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.

The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.

People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.

Fifteen Million Dead

On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.

Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.

Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.

The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.

“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.

Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.

See what others are saying: (NBC) (U.S. News and World Report) (Scientific American)

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Official Says Missing Alabama Convict and Corrections Officer Had a “Special Relationship”

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Authorities have also said they now believe the officer willfully helped the inmate escape.


New Information on Missing Inmate & Officer

Authorities in Alabama revealed Tuesday that Assistant Director of Corrections for Lauderdale County Vicky White, who is accused of helping a murder suspect Casey Cole White escape from jail, had a “special relationship” with the inmate.

“Investigators received information from inmates at the Lauderdale County Detention Center over the weekend that there was a special relationship between Director White and inmate Casey White,” Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said in a statement. “That relationship has now been confirmed through our investigation by independent sources and means.”

Officials have previously said that the two are not related, despite their shared surname.

Singleton elaborated on the nature of the relationship while speaking to CNN later on Tuesday. He said it took place “outside of her normal work hours” and added that although it did not include “physical contact,” he still characterized it as “a relationship of a different nature.”

“We were told Casey White got special privileges and was treated differently while in the facility than the other inmates,” Singleton said.

Also on Tuesday, the Marshals Service issued a statement confirming that authorities believe Officer White had helped Mr. White escape. The authorities described her as a “wanted fugitive” and offered a $5,000 reward for any information on her whereabouts. Earlier this week, the Marshals Service also offered a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to Mr. White’s capture.

Singleton echoed the belief that Officer White’s actions were intentional while speaking to Good Morning America Wednesday.

“I think all of our employees and myself included were really hoping that she did not participate in this willingly. But all indications are that she absolutely did,” he said. “We’re very disappointed in that because we had the utmost trust in her as an employee and as an assistant director of corrections.”

Mysterious Escape

Vicky White and Casey White were last seen leaving the Lauderdale County jail just after 9:30 a.m. Friday. The officer told other employees that she was taking the inmate to a mental health evaluation at a courthouse just down the road, and that she would be going to a medical appointment after because she was not feeling well.

Officials later said her actions violated an official policy that required two sworn deputies to transport people with murder charges. In 2020, Mr. White was charged with two counts of capital murder in connection to a fatal stabbing he confessed to and was awaiting his trial in Lauderdale County.

Mr. White was also serving time for what officials said was a “crime spree” in 2015 which included home invasion, carjacking, and a police chase. He had also previously tried to escape from jail, police said.

It wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. on Friday that a jail employee reported to higher-ups that he was not able to reach Officer White on her phone and that Mr. White had never been returned to his cell.

During a press conference that same night, Singleton told reporters that there had never even been a scheduled mental health evaluation. At another briefing Monday, he announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Vicky on a charge of “permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree.”

At the time, Singleton said it was unclear “whether she did that willingly or was coerced or threatened” but added, “we know for sure she did participate.” 

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