By Alisha Ebrahimji, CNN
Joaquin Ciria has spent more than half his life behind bars for the murder of his friend in San Francisco, a crime he has always maintained he didn’t commit.
Ciria was exonerated Monday, exactly 32 years to the date of his arrest, following an extensive review and investigation by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Innocence Commission, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin said in an online statement.
The 61-year-old was convicted of murder in 1991 for the shooting death of Felix Bastarrica. There was no physical evidence linking Ciria to the crime, but San Francisco police inspectors focused on him “based on rumors on the street and statements of the getaway driver, George Varela,” according to the district attorney.
Bastarrica had actually been killed by a mutual acquaintance of Varela and Ciria, the Northern California Innocence Project said in a news release.
In exchange for complete immunity, Verala testified he drove Ciria to and from the crime scene, but was under extreme pressure from police to identify Ciria at the time, despite Ciria having two alibi witnesses who were never heard at trial, the district attorney said.
“It’s very hard, you know? Seeing your kid; them taking away your son. It’s sad, seeing your child growing up by himself,” Ciria’s mother Yojana Paiz told CNN affiliate KPIX. “But finally, we’re here. We’re at the end now. He’s gonna be out. Whatever God has for us, we have to accept it.”
Since the beginning of Ciria’s imprisonment, Paiz said she stayed in touch with her son through regular visits and phone calls.
Ciria’s attorney, Ellen Eggers and Northern California Innocence Project attorney Paige Kaneb brought his case to the DA’s Innocence Commission for review and after a four-month investigation, Boudin made his decision to exonerate Ciria.
New evidence Ciria’s legal team provided showed he was convicted bases on false testimony for another man’s crime, the district attorney said. Ciria’s case was the first reviewed by the Innocence Commission since its formation in 2020.
Stolen holidays and memories
“Promoting justice in our legal system requires us not only to move forward but also to look backwards,” Boudin said. “Wrongful convictions cause concentric circles of harm: to the wrongfully convicted, to the crime victims who were told a false story and re-traumatized, to the jurors who unwittingly participated in the injustice, and to the integrity of the system as a whole. When someone has been wrongly convicted, it is incumbent upon prosecutors to correct that injustice.”
Ciria is currently in the San Francisco County jail after being transported from Folsom Prison last week, Eggers told CNN and is expected to be released within the week.
Under California state law, Ciria is entitled to financial compensation, at a rate of $140 per day for the 32 years he spent in prison, which amounts to a little over $1.6 million dollars, according to the California Victim Compensation Board.
“As a result of this wrongful conviction, the State stole 32 birthdays, 32 Christmases, 32 years in which he could not be with his son for all the special moments,” Kaneb said in an online statement. “Yet Joaquin has kept his big heart and easy smile and is full of joy as he looks forward to starting his life again.”
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