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An Asian American woman has been released from prison after a judge determined that prosecutors in her murder trial were racist against Asians.
Frances Choy, now 34, was just 17 when her parents, Anne Trinh-Choy, 53, and Ching “Jimmy” Choy, 64 died in a 2003 fire in Brockton, Massachusetts.
Following their deaths, a lengthy court process for the teen ensued — it took three trials for her to be convicted of the murder of her parents, local outlet The Enterprise reports. The first two trials resulted in hung juries and it wasn’t until 2011 that she was convicted.
Choy’s nephew, Kenneth Choy, was acquitted of murder charges in the 2003 fire in 2008. He was 16 and living in the home during the fire.
But now, a judge has decided that justice was not served. Plymouth Superior Court Judge Linda Giles released Choy in April and then vacated her sentence on Sept. 17. She said in a written decision that Choy's conviction was overturned due to “newly discovered evidence of racial bias established that justice may not have been done.”
Giles' decision points to “racially and sexually offensive emails sent and exchanged by the trial prosecutors” with “intentional racial bias by prosecutors against a defendant” as evidence. The emails included mocking and pejorative comments about Asians. Some emails were also referred to as "sexually degrading."
“If this Court were aware of the trial prosecutors’ emails and images demonstrating their anti-Asian bias against the Defendant, her family, and all Asian-Americans, this Court would have declared a mistrial and directed that those Assistant District Attorneys be removed from the case," Giles wrote.
In addition to the racism, Giles pointed to evidence which revealed that additional fires were set at the Choy home while Choy was behind bars.
On Tuesday, the Plymouth County district attorney’s office filed a document which states that prosecutors won’t prosecute Choy ever again, according to The Enterprise.
“It has been a tough and long journey, but their support helped me stay strong and never give up hope,” Choy said in a statement obtained by The Enterprise. “Nothing can erase the pain of losing my parents and how they suffered. I miss them every day. Even in prison I tried to live my life in a way that honored them. I’m relieved that the truth has been revealed and to have my life back beyond prison walls.”
One of Choy’s lawyers, Sharon Beckman, who is the director of the Boston College Innocence Program, pointed to systemic problems in a statement obtained by The Enterprise.
“Her wrongful conviction resulted from racism and other official misconduct and systemic failures," she stated. "Frances can never get back the 17 years the criminal legal system took from her, but we are overjoyed at her exoneration and hope her case will inspire meaningful reform.”
Choy is believed to be the first woman of color to be exonerated in the state, according to WBUR.
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