A federal judge said Wednesday a man who served more than two decades for a murder has been wronged by the state of New York and should receive an apology. That man walked out of prison Wednesday while prosecutors scramble to prove their case was solid. NY1's Dean Meminger filed the following report.
The cold air was no problem at all for William Lopez, who got his first taste of freedom Wednesday after spending 23 years in prison.
"A little chilly, but really wonderful," Lopez said. "Wonderful being free once again, Sir."
Back in 1989, Lopez was arrested and convicted of shooting to death a Brooklyn drug dealer, but he said the Brooklyn District Attorney's office had the wrong man from the beginning.
On Wednesday, federal judge Nicholas Garaufis ordered Lopez released from state prison. The judge has called the prosecution of Lopez rotten from day one because there was no direct evidence linking him to the murder. There were only two witnesses, and one of them couldn't point him out during trial.
"It's been a very grueling and horrific 23-and-a-half years," Lopez said.
It was tough for Lopez's family as well. 19 years ago, while he was locked up, he got married. He met his wife, Alice, through a friend.
"Never seen him in the street," she said. "Now, it has come. It is the happiest day of my life. He is a good man. He deserves to come home."
"Tears of joy," said Eugene Lopez, William's brother. "I am real grateful to know that it all had happened. I have been carrying this burden for 23 years."
Lopez received support from the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, which helps people wrongfully incarcerated.
However, Lopez's case is not over. Although Judge Garaufis slammed prosecutors, as well as the state judge in the original case, the defense lawyer and jurors for mishandling the trial, the Brooklyn DA's office said Lopez is guilty. It plans to appeal the judge's decision and re-try the case if necessary.
William Lopez said he's not surprised.
"They've been insistent from day one with no evidence, and they still, to this moment continue to persist," he said.
For now, the 54-year-old is getting acquainted with modern technology. He spoke on a cell phone for the first time, and his lawyer, Richard Levitt, gave him another piece of modern technology Wednesday.
"I got a present for Mr. Lopez. It is something which he has never had to use before. Hopefully he will get a lot of great use out of it," Levitt said. "His first Metrocard."
But how long will William Lopez be free to ride the subway? The case continues.