Rafael Ruiz was finally exonerated on Jan. 28, after more than three decades of wrongful conviction. And his family, who attended his exoneration hearing in custom-made sweaters bearing his image, could not have been happier.
Ruiz spent 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit — the 1985 sexual assault of a woman in East Harlem. Though he was released on parole in 2009, Ruiz was only exonerated this week after a joint investigation by the Innocence Project and the New York County District Attorney’s Office’s Conviction Integrity Program uncovered new evidence and DNA testing excluded Ruiz as the perpetrator of the assault.
“I’m a free man then, right?”
“I’m a free man then, right?” Ruiz asked the judge at the end of Tuesday’s hearing.
“You’re free,” he replied. The short declaration was one Ruiz and his family had waited more than 35 years to hear. Upon hearing them at last, they swept Ruiz up in a circle of tears and hugs.
Through Ruiz’s decades-long struggle for justice, his family has stood by him. While he was incarcerated, his sister, María, sold her own possessions to be able to afford food and clothes to send Rafael in prison. He said she has helped him “keep his head straight” through everything.
And their support did not waver on Tuesday, where about 13 of Rafael’s family members joined him in court to witness his exoneration.
Though the day was filled with many joyous moments, below are a few of our favorites:
The Ruiz family gathers for a group hug after Rafael’s exoneration.
Support Rafael by purchasing items from his Amazon Wishlist to help rebuild his life here.