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Defendant Freed With Help of Ex-Wife

Posted Jun 15, 2007 12:56 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The ex-wife of a convicted murderer worked for 15 years to overturn his conviction, saying she took action because she knew he was innocent.

The Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) chronicles Ana Ortega’s battle to win her husband’s release. He was convicted for the New York crime, she said, even though on the night of the murder he was in the Dominican Republic, first visiting her and then held in jail after being arrested for passport fraud.

José Garcia was convicted based on the testimony of one eye-witness who identified him in a questionable line-up procedure, the newspaper reports. His initial lawyer did not call alibi witnesses, telling Ortega no one would believe friends and relatives, she later testified.

The Innocence Project says it has found that mistaken eyewitness identifications are a factor in 75 percent of the cases where genetic evidence is used to free convicted defendants.

But in Garcia’s case, there was no genetic evidence. Instead it was Ortega’s persistence that helped persuade a federal judge to appoint lawyers from Willkie Farr & Gallagher to represent Garcia in a hearing on his claim of actual innocence. To press the case, she had moved to New York and learned English.

The judge ultimately ordered a retrial for Garcia and prosecutors dropped the case. Garcia was later deported for a previous drug conviction and border arrest, leaving his ex-wife behind in New York City.

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