Christopher Ochoa, exonerated in Texas crimes, earns law degree
May 10, 2006
A Texas man who served 12 years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit will graduate from the University of Wisconsin Law School on Friday, May 12.
Christopher Ochoa was freed from prison in 2001 with the help of the Wisconsin Innocence Project at the UW Law School. Faculty and students involved in the project began working on his case after Ochoa sent them a letter from prison saying he believed DNA testing would prove his innocence.
"A wrongfully convicted person must go through many, many years of therapy, after he or she is released, to learn how to socialize with society. I did not need many years of therapy, because the undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, administration and, of course, Bucky, made me a part of their family," he says.
Coming to the university was a transforming experience, he says.
"They treated me like one of their own and treated me just like any other person in society, and because of that, I no longer am shy or distrust people. UW has helped me grow and adjust to the free world at a faster rate than normal," Ochoa says.
Keith Findley and John Pray, co-directors of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, says Ochoa's journey through the legal system has been remarkable. Pray was Ochoa's lead lawyer.
"Spending years in prison for a crime you didn't commit is a very damaging experience. That Chris was able to get out of prison, complete his undergraduate degree and then make it through law school speaks volumes about his character," Findley says. "We are so lucky to have had Chris as a client, a student - and soon, a colleague in the profession. He has taught us a lot about the criminal justice system, about what it means to be a lawyer, and about how to handle overwhelming adversity with strength, grace and compassion."
After gaining his freedom, Ochoa enrolled in law school in 2003. During the following year, he began working as a student in the Wisconsin Innocence Project, the same project he contacted from his prison cell years earlier.
Ochoa will speak at a UW Law School graduation ceremony on Friday, May 12, from 2-3:30 p.m. in Exhibition Hall D at the Alliant Energy Center.