A New York City man freed last year after serving 23 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit has died just before his $124 million federal lawsuit against the city was due to start.
William Lopez died suddenly from a massive asthma attack over the weekend, the New York Post reported.
The 55-year-old Bronx man was freed in January 2013 after federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis called the case "rotten from Day 1" and threw out the conviction.
The case dated back to 1989 when, prosecutors said, two men shot a drug dealer with a double-barreled shotgun. Although no murder weapon or forensic evidence was found, two witnesses, one of whom later recanted, placed Lopez at the scene.
Jeffrey Deskovic, whose Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice led the effort to overturn the conviction, said Lopez had hoped to travel and go to law school.
"His life was really robbed from him," he told the Post. Deskovic established his foundation after spending 15 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit. According to the New York Daily News, Deskovic sued the federal and state governments for his wrongful conviction and used $1.5 million of his $8 million settlement to set up the foundation.
"He wanted to do some domestic travel to other states, and to travel internationally," Deskovic added in discussing what Lopez would do with any payout he received. "He wanted to go to college and to go to law school. He wanted to set his wife up in business, and he wanted to be an entrepreneur."
"It feels great to be back on Earth,'' Lopez had told the News after his release from prison. "I'm looking forward to restarting my life as best I can. I'll probably just take a nice breath of fresh air. Cold air."
The prosecution that sent him to prison for most of his adult life was heavily criticized by Judge Garaufis.
"In short, the prosecution's evidence was flimsy to begin with and has since been reduced to rubble," he wrote.According to the Post, Lopez spent the time since his release with his wife, Alice — who married him while he was in prison — and getting to know his daughter, Crystal, who was 14 months old when he was convicted.
But, the paper said, he struggled financially and was seeking $124 million from the city in his federal civil suit, which was supposed to start in Brooklyn Tuesday.
"My brother Bill was greatly bothered by fact that his life was dramatically impacted by being wrongfully convicted, as well as his knowledge that many other wrongful conditions have taken place without any changes in the system," Lopez's brother Eugene told the Post.