The story of Chris Ochoa is one of the best in the annals of proven false confessions. Arrested in connection with the murder and rape of 20 year old Nancy DePriest at an Austin, TX Pizza Hut, Ochoa was beaten and coerced into confessing to the killing by Hector Polanco, a legendary Austin detective known for his brutality and for coercing false confessions. Ochoa was so terrified of Polanco and so convince he would get raped in jail and get the death penalty, that he not only pled guilty in exchange for a life sentence, he named his friend Richard Danziger as an accomplice and testified against him at trial. Danziger was beaten in prison and suffered brain damage. Ochoa continued to maintain that he was guilty (in the hopes of getting paroled) when Achim Marino, the true killer had a religious conversion in prison, and began telling anyone who would listen (including then Gov. George W. Bush) that he raped Nancy and that he could lead police to some of the evidence connected to the crime. Noone listened to Marino until Ochoa contacted the Wisconsin Innocence Project to seek DNA testing which not only exonerated him and Danziger but fingered Marino. The story gets better.
After his release, Ochoa befriended Jeannette Popp, Nancy DePriest's mother, who soon became a powerful anti-death penaly speaker. Ochoa and Popp often spoke together at colleges and universities around the country (they came to Northwestern). Their presentation was a living testament to the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. Ochoa had earned two associate degrees through correspondence courses and had almost completed his bachelor's degree when he was released. A University of Texas-El Paso business law class and talks he gave at different law schools about his experience inspired him to become part of the system that had put him away.
Today, Ochoa will walk down the aisle in a cap and gown as he graduates from the University of Wisconsin law school where he settled after he was released from prison. Ochoa, who grew up in El Paso, hopes to one day become a prosecutor so he can control investigations. He calls American justice the best system in the world, but says corrupt investigators and prosecutors have broken it. "The funny thing is, says Ochoa, I couldn't stand lawyers and cops .... You don't want to push an innocent man into prison to further your political career."