Man who served 32 years in prison for murder he didn’t commit was freed as cops were exposed

Joaquin Ciria’s conviction 32 years ago was based on false testimony and police misconduct, according to San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin

No physical evidence linked Ciria to the crime, Boudin said
No physical evidence linked Joaquin Ciria to the crime, Boudin said

A wrongly convicted man who has spent more than three decades behind bars has been exonerated after a witness admitted police pressured him into making false statements.

Joaquin Ciria was arrested in 1990 for shooting and killing his friend Felix Bastarrica in San Francisco.

According to San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who exonerated Mr. Ciria on Monday, his conviction was based on false testimony and police misconduct.

Corresponding ABC newsMr Boudin issued a press release saying his office was “proud and grateful” for the work of the Innocence Commission in rectifying Mr Ciria’s wrongful conviction.

“While we cannot give him back the decades of his lost life, we are grateful that the court corrected this miscarriage of justice,” he added.

The case against Mr Ciria has now been dropped after a judge overturned his conviction.

NCIP’s Paige Kaneb in court with Joaquin Ciria and attorney Ellen Eggers as Mr Ciria is exonerated after 32 years of wrongful imprisonment


Northern California Innocence Project)

No physical evidence linked Mr Ciria to the crime, Mr Boudin said. Local police had assumed, based on rumors and statements by the alleged getaway driver, that Mr Ciria was the shooter.

George Varela testified in exchange for full immunity that he drove Mr Ciria to and from the crime scene.

Boudin indicated that Mr Varela, who was then a teenager, had been pressured by police into naming Mr Ciria as the killer. When Mr Varela admitted to Mr Ciria’s family members that he had given false evidence, the commission found that he had been wrongly detained.

Three witnesses testified at Mr Ciria’s trial, two of whom, according to Mr Boudin’s office, were “cross-racial identifications by strangers whose views were marred by distance and poor lighting during the night’s shooting”.

Mr. Ciria is currently being held in the San Francisco County Jail but may need to be transferred back to Folsom Prison (pictured) for an official release


It is believed that cross-racial identification – when the witness and the accused to be identified are from different racial backgrounds – often leads to misidentification due to self-racial prejudice, the phenomenon by which faces of one’s own race are better recognized than faces of another race.

No alternative suspect was named to the jury and evidence of Mr Ciria’s alibi was not presented in court, although two witnesses were available to substantiate this.

According to the Innocence Commission, another eyewitness, the victim’s best friend, identified someone else as the shooter.

Other witnesses had confirmed details to support this new eyewitness’ story, including the description of the shooter provided by the unrelated eyewitnesses, which was more consistent with another suspect.

Mr. Ciria’s case was the first to be reviewed by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Innocence Commission, which was formed in 2020 to investigate possible wrongful convictions and present the findings to Boudin’s office.

Mr Ciria has maintained his innocence after more than 30 years in prison


Northern California Innocence Project)

Mr. Ciria has long maintained his innocence.

Lara Bazelon, chair of the Innocence Commission, said: “When a conviction perverts the law because it deprives an innocent person of their liberty while depriving the victim and their family of justice, the district attorney’s duty is to correct the intolerable violation.” “

“Joaquin’s case highlights so many problems with our system, including the time it takes to reverse a wrongful conviction, the problems with the use of incentives for testimony, the unreliability of cross-racial identifications, and the nature and… Way people of color are not afforded the presumption of innocence,” said Paige Kaneb, lead counsel for the Northern California Innocence Project, who represented Mr. Ciria.

In California alone, more than 270 known wrongful convictions have been recognized since the National Registry of Exerations began tracking wrongful convictions in 1989.

Mr Ciria is now included in this register.

In a press release, Boudin’s office said: “Studies into the causes of wrongful convictions show that among the most important contributing factors are misidentification of eyewitnesses, false statements and official misconduct.

“All three of those factors were present in Mr. Ciria’s case and in this case led to his wrongful conviction.”

Although Mr Ciria’s release date was not yet known, it could be in the next few days, the prosecutor’s office said.

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