LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A man who spent 16 years in prison for three sexual assaults his attorney said he did not commit has been exonerated.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan ordered Luis Lorenzo Vargas released during a brief hearing Monday, citing a letter from the District Attorney’s Office, which concluded that DNA testing “undermined the entire prosecution case and points unerringly to innocence.”
The 46-year-old was convicted in 1999 for sexually assaulting three victims.
But The California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law took Vargas’ case found that DNA showed the crimes were actually committed by the so-called Teardrop Rapist, who is known for a tattoo of a teardrop under his eye.
Witnesses linked Vargas to the crimes because he had a similar tattoo.
“Our client was excluded from the DNA on our victim’s clothing,” said Raquel Cohen of the Innocence Project.
Prosecutors had argued at Vargas’s trial that the three assaults for which he was tried “were signature crimes that could be committed by only one person.”
The Teardrop Rapist is linked by DNA to 11 crimes and suspected of 35 in total across the Los Angeles area.
Vargas’s daughter, Crystal, was 10 when her father was taken into custody. “Not having a father figure is difficult. You don’t have that sense of protection, the sense of security. And growing up, I would cry myself to sleep.”
She said she technically had gotten married but wanted to wait for her father to be free to have the ceremony. “I’m waiting for him to come home so I can do my big church wedding and be able to have him walk me down the aisle, which is every little girl’s dream. And I can’t wait for that moment.”
Vargas’ mother, Blanca Alatorre, said her son asked her to grant him one wish the moment he becomes a free man. “He told me mom: ‘When you see me, I am outside. Please buy me a big hamburger, and we’ll eat it together’,” she laughed.
But Vargas will first have to go before an immigration judge before he can be set free because he was a lawful permanent resident at the time of his arrest. And the immigration hold was put in place as a consequence of his sentencing in 1999.
The District Attorney’s Office said it had no discretion in the immigration matter. Vargas’ attorney said they hope “ICE does the right thing.”