News 10.23.09

James Ochoa: Three Years Free, a New Start in Texas

Three years ago this week, James Ochoa was exonerated after serving 10 months in prison for a crime he didn't commit.  He was freed when the profile of another man in a DNA database matched evidence from the crime for which Ochoa was convicted.

Ochoa now lives in Texas with his wife and children and works in sales for a clothing company.

Ochoa became a suspect in a 2005 Buena Park, California, carjacking after a highly questionable eyewitness identification procedure and involvement of a police scent-tracking dog.

After two young men were carjacked, they described the perpetrator to a police officer, who immediately thought of Ochoa, whom he had seen earlier that night nearby. The officer showed the victims a picture of Ochoa from his laptop computer. One victim saw only a picture of Ochoa; the other saw photographs of Ochoa's two friends (who did not resemble the description just taken) first and then Ochoa. Both victims said Ochoa "looked like" the perpetrator.

The car was found in the neighborhood later that night — a B.B. gun used in the crime and a hat worn by the perpetrator were inside. A bloodhound dog named "Trace" was brought to the scene. Trace allegedly followed the scent from a swab from the perpetrator's baseball cap to Ochoa's front door. The use of dog sniffing evidence has

come under fire

in several states in recent months.

Ochoa was charged with the crime, despite DNA test results that showed one profile on the hat and gun, excluding Ochoa. Against the advice of his attorney, Ochoa accepted a guilty plea in exchange for a two-year sentence, after a judge threatened him with a 25-year sentence if convicted by a jury.

Ten months later, another man was arrested in Los Angeles on unrelated carjacking charges. His DNA profile matched the profile from the hat and gun in Ochoa's case and he confessed to committing the crime. Ochoa was freed after ten months in prison.


Read more about his case

– as well as with background on eyewitness misidentification and unvalidated science.


Other exoneree anniversaries this week:


Edward Honaker

, Virginia (Served 9.5 years/Exonerated 10/21/94)


Fredric Saecker

, Wisconsin (Served 6 years/Exonerated 10/24/96)


Victor Ortiz

, New York  (Served 11.5 years – exonerated 10/24/96)

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