Just a couple of weeks ago, Loyola Law School’s Project for the Innocent helped Andrew Leander Wilson return to his family after spending 32 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. More recently, they’ve helped another innocent man be released after serving 20 years of a life sentence.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Marco Contreras finally gained his freedom from Calipatria State Prison with the help of Ricardo Perez. “Keep fighting,” Contreras said in Spanish upon his release. “Be patient and keep fighting.”
Contreras, 41, was incorrectly identified for an attempted murder in 1997. A witness who saw a gunman shoot Jose Garcia, who survived, and flee in a get-away car. After writing down the car’s license plate, police tracked it to Contreras. His brother, Miguel, then told them the car was his.
Despite the witness testifying that she wasn’t sure Contreras was the man she saw and other witnesses claimed he was at home asleep during the time of the shooting, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Miguel was given 16 months as an accessory after the fact due to taking a plea deal.
After years of pleading, Miguel finally told his family that Marco wasn’t the shooter that night and later helped police during an undercover sting operation where one of them men involved in planning the hit confirmed Marco’s innocence.
In 2012, a team of lawyers and students from Loyola got involved after noticing holes in Contreras’ case, especially a striking resemblance with another suspect.
As a result of their hard work, a judge was able to right a wrong from the U.S. justice system and grant a man a long-awaited asylum.
“I’d like to thank you for allowing me to be here,” Contreras said after the trial. “Also the D.A. — I’d like to say thank you to everybody.”
Now that Contreras has been released, the men accused of actually carrying out the attack on Jose Garcia, Antonio Salgado, 41; Antonio Garcia, 61; and Ricardo Valencia, 46, have been arrested and charged.