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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. 

See what others are saying: (ABC) (New York Times) (NBC)

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Mother and Boyfriend Charged After Abandoning 3 Children in Apartment With Sibling’s Remains

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Authorities said the malnourished children had been living in the unit without their parents for months.


Abandoned Children Discovered in Houston

Police in Texas arrested a mother and her boyfriend on Tuesday after finding the woman’s three children abandoned in an apartment unit with the remains of their sibling.

Authorities found the 7-, 10-, and 15-year-old boys on Sunday when the teen called police to report that his brother had been dead for a year and that his body was in the unit.

When authorities arrived at the scene, they found the children living in “deplorable conditions.” Police also found the skeletal remains of an 8-year-old, who they emphasized had been decomposing for an extended period of time.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the boys were fending for each other, with the eldest doing his best to care for the younger ones. According to the teen, his parents hadn’t been living in the apartment with them for months.

Gonzales called it one of the most shocking cases he had ever seen in all his years in law enforcement, and many are now asking how these kids could have been suffering for so long without anyone ever noticing.

Signs That Went Unnoticed

The Daily Beast reported that the kids hadn’t been attending school since May 2020, claiming that the school even conducted an unsuccessful home visit in September of that year.

On top of that, the children had been without power for several weeks, with one neighbor telling local reporters that the teen would often charge his phone at her place.

Another neighbor, Erica Chapman, said she had once found the teen sleeping on a playground slide, so she gave him some food and drinks.

I asked him if he was hungry. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and I brought him out some food and some drinks,” Chapman told KHOU.

She said he “wouldn’t talk about his parents,” and she didn’t push because she wanted him to feel safe coming to her if he needed food. Chapman added that she would drop off food at the apartment sometimes but said it was hard to tell what was going on inside.

Police also described a foul odor coming from the unit, which a different neighbor said she complained to management about more than once. That woman claimed the smell was so vile, she could not turn on her air conditioning.

Dianne Davis, who lived in the complex for two years, told The Houston Chronicle that the building manager performs regular inspections on the units, with the most recent one happening last week.

“How come they couldn’t detect this?” Davis told the paper. “How could that not have been found?”

Mother and Boyfriend Face Charges

According to Child Protective Services (CPS), the agency does have a history with the family, but there was no active investigation at the time the kids were discovered.

After they were found, the boys were treated at a hospital and placed with CPS while the agency seeks emergency custody of them.

At the hospital, doctors discovered fractures in the 7-year-old face and said two of the three boys were malnourished. Meanwhile, the medical examiner’s office said the deceased child suffered multiple blunt force injuries and ruled his death a homicide.

Police located the mother, 35-year-old Gloria Williams, and her boyfriend, 31-year-old Brian Coulter, on Sunday. They were interviewed and initially released without charges.

ABC13 reported that the teen texted his mother, who lived just 15 minutes, before calling the police.

On Tuesday, the couple was finally arrested while allegedly reading articles about themselves at a library. Williams, faces multiple charges, including injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence involving a human corpse.

Meanwhile, Coulter was charged with murder over the death of the child, though both he and Williams are expected to face more charges as investigators continue to unpack the details of this case.

See what others are saying: (The Houston Chronicle) (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post)

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Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say

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The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.


COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card

Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.

Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.

On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.

The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.

Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.

The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.

Misuse of COVID Relief Funds

Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.

In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.

According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”

On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.

In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.

See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)

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FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses

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The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.


New FDA Authorization

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.

The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.

Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.

Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.

Hazy Recommendations, For Now

Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.

The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.

In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.

However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.

An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.

Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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