Man Exonerated After 30 Years For Murder He Insisted He Did Not Commit

A California man who has spent more than three decades behind bars for a murder he did not commit has been exonerated of the crime on Monday in San Francisco Superior Court.

As reported by NBC Chicago, 61-year-old Joaquin Ciria was arrested back in 1990 and convicted of the fatal shooting of Felix Bastarrica in San Francisco’s SoMa District. He was later handed a life sentence for the crime.

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin has since stated that the conviction was based on false witness testimony and police misconduct.

According to the Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) - a non-profit that fights to protect the rights of the innocent - Ciria was convicted of first-degree murder after the police coerced George Varela, the man who drove the actual shooter, to falsely name Ciria as the gunman.

The police reportedly relied heavily on rumors and told Varela, who was a teenager at the time, that he could either implicate Ciria or be charged with the murder.

Watch Ciria speak out about his newfound freedom:

After being established in 2020, the San Francisco District Attorney's Office's Innocence Commission launched an 18-month investigation that saw new evidence and witnesses come to light in Ciria's case.

In a testimony, George Varela's sister and a family friend said that he admitted Ciria was innocent and an eyewitness came forward in 2020 and told the police that he saw another man argue with Bastarrica at the scene before the gunshots started.

"Thirty-two years ago, you were taken away from your wife and your baby, and that is because the system failed you catastrophically," said Lara Bazelon, chair of the Innocence Commission. She further added: "There was no DNA, no fingerprints, and no murder weapon was ever recovered."

Ciria maintained his innocence for 30 years and had two alibi witnesses who stated that he was home during the time of the murder.

“On behalf of the Innocence Commission, I would like to apologize to you. We cannot give you back those lost decades. I hope that today with our actions and the court’s ruling, you can move forward knowing that you have been exonerated.” said Professor Bazelon.

Speaking to KPIX 5, Ciria describes the news as "being born again" and says the first thing he will do when released is spend time with his son and wife.

NCIP attorney Paige Kaneb, who had been representing Ciria, said following the ruling: "[Ciria] can now spend time with his 32-year-old son, who was a baby when his father was wrongfully taken away from him."

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