Man Who Served 16 Years in Prison For Rape is Exonerated By DNA Evidence
A California man has been released from prison after serving 16 years for a rape he didn't commit after DNA evidence linked the 1998 crime to the serial "Teardrop rapist."
Luis Vargas' convictions were overturned this week after Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Ryan ruled the new evidence "unerringly" proved the 46-year-old's innocence.
The judge tossed out a rape conviction as well as charges that accused him of attempting to rape two other women between February and June 1998.
Vargas was freed with the help of the California Innocence Project, a group he contacted in 2012 while serving his sentence of 55 years to life.
Vargas told them he believed he'd been convicted of a crime committed by the Teardrop Rapist. Both men have tattoos of teardrops under their eyes.
The Teardrop Rapist is suspected of 11 to 35 crimes in the Los Angeles area, the Associated Press reports.
Vargas was convicted at a time when DNA evidence wasn't as advanced as it is today and the prosecution's case hinged upon eyewitness testimony.
"This was a shaky witness identification case," said attorney Alex Simpson, of the California Innocence Project. "It is the No. 1 factor in wrongful convictions across the country."
Vargas' daughter, who was 10 years old when her father was convicted, tearfully addressed the press following the court hearing.
"Not having a father figure is difficult," Crystal Nunez-Vargas said with her own young daughter at her side. "You don't have that sense of protection. That sense of security. And, growing up, I would cry myself to sleep."
Vargas' mother also addressed the press and said her son had an important request--a hamburger.
"He told me, 'Mom, when I am outside, please buy me a big hamburger and we'll eat it together," she said.
Photos from the moment Vargas' conviction was overturned show him break into tears, but his relief was cut short--at least temporarily.
He was almost immediately taken back into custody due to immigration issues.
However, since Vargas was a legal U.S. resident at the time of his conviction, attorneys believe the immigration matter will be cleared up, possibly before the holidays.
"I think he's let go of any bitterness and he's just happy to move forward and be reunited with this family, hopefully for Christmas," Raquel Cohen of the California Innocence Project told the AP.