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San Francisco Man Released From Prison 32 Years After Wrongful Murder Conviction

The night Joaquin Ciria was arrested for murder, he promised his then six-week-old son that he would be back. On Wednesday — after 32 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit — father and son embraced.

By Constance Johnson
Exonerated inmate Joaquin Ciria with attorney's Paige Kaneb and Ellen Eggers

A San Francisco man is embracing freedom 32 years after a wrongful murder conviction.

Joaquin Ciria, now 61, was greeted with cheers and applauds from family, friends and supporters as he exited the San Francisco County Jail on Wednesday afternoon. He had been transferred there from Folsom State Prison while his paperwork was being processed.

"It's a feeling that you cannot express. No matter how you try to express it, you cannot express it completely," Ciria said during an informal press conference after his release.

“I’m glad I’m about to start a life with him after 32 years. The world is not the same when he went in. I’m glad he’s home,” his son, Pedro Ciria, said, according to KPIX

On the night he was hauled away by police, Circia looked up at his apartment window where then six-week-old Pedro was sleeping and whispered: “I will be back,” the station reported. 

Circia spent more than half of his life behind bars after he was convicted for the fatal shooting of Felix Bastirrica in 1990.

Earlier this week, San Francisco District Attorney dismissed the case after Superior Court Judge Brendan Conroy overturned the conviction.

The Northern California Innocence Project said police relied on rumors on the street that Ciria was the killer, failing to investigate other suspects. They also said police pressured the getaway driver, George Varela, to identify Ciria as the shooter or face a murder charge himself. 

San Francisco investigators maintained that they conducted a fair and thorough investigation.

“We don’t threaten anybody,” Art Gerrans, a detective who worked the case and is now retired, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Ciria has always said he was innocent and spent hours in the Folsom Prison library researching the law, hoping to find the keys to his freedom.

But his pleas went nowhere until the Northern California Innocence Project took on his case and eventually presented it to the DA’s Innocence Commission.

Another witness, who initially refused to cooperate with police and wanted to revenge the death of his friend, also came forward.

“Ultimately, he got a good judge who did the right thing, held a quick hearing, heard the witnesses and let him out. That’s what should have happened a long time ago. But he’s a patient man,” Ciria’s attorney Ellen Eggers said according to KPIX.

Ciria thanked everyone who help free him: “God put all the people in the right place,” he said, according to the Chronicle.

“You know what? I the beginning, I did think I was going to lose it. I really was thinking, ‘I cannot take this.’ I was thinking that I was going to lose my mind,” Ciria said of his time in prison, according to KPIX. “But when you put faith, and your faith is attached to God, you have to keep going.”

“This is what we do our work for. These moments are amazing. It is why we fought for 20 years to correct witness identification, so mistakes like this don’t happen,”  Linda Starr with the Northern California Innocence Project said.

Circia is celebrating his freedom, but also lamented that there are more like him who remain in prison, according to KPIX.

“It is a happy moment! It is a happy moment!” he said. “We’ve got a lot of job to do. There’s some more people behind me in the same situation.”

When asked what he wanted to do first Ciria said: “Today, I would like to eat some Cuban food.”

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