Man freed after 23 years in jail for a crime he didn’t do can thank another exonerated man for freedom
By Dareh Gregorian / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Monday, February 4, 2013, 7:04 PM
William Lopez, surrounded by attorneys, family and friends, walked out of court a free man on Jan. 23 after spending 23 years in jail for a crime he did not commit.
A Brooklyn man whose murder conviction was thrown out by a federal judge has another wrongfully convicted man to thank for his freedom.
Jeff Deskovic, who spent 15 years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit, worked behind the scenes to help exonerate William Lopez — and is now helping him to adjust to life on the outside, the Daily News has learned.
Deskovic had sued the feds and the state for his wrongful conviction, and used $1.5 million of his $8 million in settlement money to set up the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice to help other wronged prisoners last year (see www.thejeffreydeskovicfoundationforjustice.org).
“I wanted to make what happened to me count for something,” Deskovic said.
Lopez, 54, a married dad, was released from prison on Jan. 23 by Brooklyn Federal Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis, who angrily derided the original evidence as “rotten from day one.”
“The result is that a likely innocent man has been in prison for over 23 years. He should be released with the state’s apology,” the judge wrote.
Lopez had always maintained he was innocent of the shotgun killing of a Elvirn Surria in a Brighton Beach crackhouse on Aug. 31, 1989.
His appeals lawyers at Levitt & Kaiser worked get him out, citing a failure to call alibi witnesses in the original case and the testimony of a drug-addled witness who recanted his original fingering of Lopez as the triggerman.
But perhaps their biggest break came when they learned an eyewitness to the shooting was in the Dominican Republic. The firm turned to Deskovic’s foundation and another called the Exoneration Project to help track down the witness.
The witness, Carlos Diaz, later testified that he saw the person who killed Surria — and it wasn’t Lopez.
The Brooklyn District Attorney’s office said it would appeal the decision.
In the meantime, Deskovic’s foundation has provided Lopez with temporary housing in Manhattan, and is trying to help reintegrate him into society.
“It’s going be a long, difficult road,” Deskovic said. “He has lots of things he has to do, especially re-establishing ties with his family.”
His daughter Crystal was just 14 months old when Lopez went to prison.
“She grew up without him,” Deskovic said.