After 16 Years in Prison, DNA Clears Convict of Sex Crimes - NBC Southern California

After 16 Years in Prison, DNA Clears Convict of Sex Crimes

“My father meant the world to me. I made poor decisions because I didn't have a father to guide me," said the wrongfully convicted man’s daughter

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    A judge on Monday overturned the conviction of a man who spent 16 years in prison for sexual assaults that DNA evidence later proved he didn't commit. Ted Chen reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Nov. 23, 2015. (Published Monday, Nov. 23, 2015)

    A judge on Monday overturned the conviction of a California man who spent 16 years in prison for sexual assaults that DNA evidence later proved he didn't commit.

    Luis Vargas began crying when the judge said that the evidence "completely and unerringly" points to his innocence.

    His lawyers believe a notorious rapist on the FBI's most wanted list was actually responsible.

    Vargas, 46, is not a free man yet because of his immigration status. He's going into federal custody until his green card can be restored.

    But his daughter and her 7-year-old child are looking forward to getting him back.

    "Growing up, I would cry myself to sleep, my father meant the world to me," Crystal Nunez-Vargas said. "I made poor decisions because I didn't have a father to guide me."

    Vargas 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, while Vargas' attorney told reporters they were hopeful that "ICE does the right thing."

    DNA tests proved Vargas was innocent based on technology that wasn't around when Vargas he was sentenced in 1999 for three sexual assaults.

    "This was a shaky eyewitness identification case," said attorney Alex Simpson of the California Innocence Project. "This happens all the time. The No. 1 factor in wrongful convictions across the country is mistaken eyewitness identification."

    Both defense lawyers and authorities said DNA evidence now points to the so-called Teardrop Rapist, who police believe is responsible for at least 35 attacks on women, the last one in 2012. His nickname is based on a tattoo of one or two teardrops below one eye.

    "The DNA evidence links the Teardrop Rapist to these three crimes," Simpson said.

    At his trial, three victims identified Vargas, who had previously served time for forcibly raping a girlfriend, as the man who attacked them.

    Vargas was sentenced to 55 years to life in prison for a rape and two attempted rapes. In the 16 years he served, he got to see his granddaughter just once at a community college graduation ceremony held inside prison.

    His daughter said she's held off her wedding ceremony until her father can walk her down the aisle.

    "Everybody needs a father figure; unfortunately, I didn't have one because he wasn't able," Nunez-Vargas said. "They didn't give him the opportunity to be there for me and now I want him to be there for me."

    Lawyers for the Innocence Project credit the district attorney's office for standing with them in court Monday to say the conviction was a mistake and that Vargas was indeed innocent.

    Vargas has been sending books to his granddaughter in anticipation that he'll finally be able to read them to her. 

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