Two Illinois cousins, who spent the majority of their lives behind bars for crimes they did not commit, walked out of prison on Thursday after spending 42 years in jail. This is just one of many innocent people released this week from decades-long imprisonment.
James Soto and David Ayala will spend their holidays with their families, for the first time since 1981, when they were convicted of the murders of two Chicago teens.
The cousins received two life sentences, without parole, for the murders. They also received 30 years of imprisonment for attempted murder, and seven years in prison for conspiracy to murder.
Lauren Myerscough Mueller, an attorney at the Exoneration Project who represents wrongfully convicted people, stated that the pair served the longest sentence for wrongful conviction in the history of the state.
Soto now plans to use his newfound freedom to help others who are like him.
After his release on Thursday, he stated, “I feel exuberant, excited, and elated. But… I also feel a little righteous anger.” “It shouldn’t have taken 42 years for this to occur.”
Myerscough Mueller stated that the state “agreed with the petitions” and requested the judge vacate the convictions. The cousins then had to present their case to a judge.
The emotions of today are hard to describe. Myerscough Mueller said, “It was beautiful.”
She said Soto had a family dinner at Rosebud Randolph, Chicago to celebrate his release.
He had sea bass and steak. “He ordered two meals as he could not decide”, the attorney said.
Soto stated that the cousins had been separated for over two decades in prison. He expressed his hope that they would be able to help each other as they move forward in life.
According to a Northwestern University Facebook post, Soto graduated from the Northwestern Prison Education Program while incarcerated.
Soto has a Bachelor’s in Science, he said. He also took the LSAT.
“I am going to Northwestern.” He said, “I have a job there waiting for me and I intend on applying to law school.”
I want to help others like myself. I know that there are still people in the system.
Cook County in Illinois released another inmate who was wrongfully imprisoned earlier this week. Brian Beals was wrongly convicted of the 1988 murder a 6-year-old boy. He was released from prison after 35 years.
California also exonerated this week two men wrongfully convicted of murder in separate cases. Both men were teens when they were arrested.
Marvin Hayes, a Minnesota man who spent almost 20 years in prison for a crime that was almost exclusively based on the testimony of witnesses, was freed this week. Later, one witness said that he had never seen the suspect in person and another recanted their testimony.