An innocent Texas inmate is freed

But if George W. Bush's office had not ignored a murder confession and DNA evidence, Christopher Ochoa might have been freed much sooner.

Published January 17, 2001 9:00PM (EST)

Christopher Ochoa confessed 13 years ago to a rape and murder that DNA evidence has proven he didn't commit. Ochoa was finally freed from a Texas prison on Tuesday.

"I had given up on the system," 34-year-old Ochoa told the Associated Press after embracing his weeping mother. "We have to fix it because I came close to losing my life." County prosecutor Bryan Case was quoted as saying, "It's a bad feeling knowing it's failed," apparently referring to the flawed justice system. "But it's a good feeling fixing it."

The press has reported Ochoa's tragic tale and the bittersweet story of his release. But what seems to have fallen off the page is the passive involvement of then-Gov. George W. Bush's office in the innocent man's 12 years behind bars.

As Salon's Alan Berlow reported, Achim Josef Marino, a 39-year-old state prison inmate serving a life sentence for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon, wrote a letter to Bush in which he confessed to the 1988 robbery, rape and murder of Ochoa's alleged victim, 20-year-old Nancy De Priest at an Austin, Texas, Pizza Hut.

In that letter, Marino asserted that two innocent men were serving life sentences for the crime. "Governor Bush Sir, I do not know these men nor why they plead [sic] guilty to a crime they never committed," Marino wrote, "but I tell you this sir, I did this awfull [sic] crime and I was alone."

Bush's office filed the letter away and did not notify anyone -- neither lawyers for Ochoa, nor the police nor the district attorney. The letter only came to light during Bush's presidential campaign, thanks to reporters' efforts.

DNA evidence found on De Priest's body did not match the DNA of Ochoa or the other man found guilty in the case, Richard Danziger. The two men were roommates in prison, serving life sentences for the crime. Their convictions were based in large part on Ochoa's confession, which he maintains was coerced by police. Ochoa's case was eventually taken up by the Innocence Project, a group of law students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The group's efforts led to Ochoa's eventual release.

For the full story of Ochoa's wrongful conviction and Bush's death-penalty record in Texas, read Salon's coverage:

Texas justice
What made timid honors student Christopher Ochoa confess to a rape and murder that he almost certainly did not commit?
By Alan Berlow

Gov. Bush's office ignored murder confession
Two and a half years later, the two men convicted of the crime still sit in prison.
By Alan Berlow

"Dear Governor Bush Sir: I did this awfull crime"
This is the letter Achim Joseph Marino sent the Texas governor more than two years ago.

Bush's big lie
His "not me" excuse for the 145 executions in Texas on his watch relies on the kind of legal hairsplitting that would make the president proud.
By Alan Berlow

Angels of justice
Barry Scheck and Jim Dwyer talk about the Innocence Project, which has helped overturn eight wrongful convictions of death-row inmates.
By Alicia Montgomery

Carrying justice
Why is the job of overturning wrongful death penalty convictions being left to a handful of students and academics?
By David Moberg

The death penalty
Salon's full coverage of capital punishment.

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

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Crime George W. Bush Texas