William Lopez never should have gone to prison. The judge that finally released him called the case against him "rotten from day one," based on the flimsy testimony of alleged eyewitnesses who turned out to be unreliable. Lopez's daughter, just one year old when he went to prison, grew up without him. Upon his release, he came back to the world with nothing; he had to rely on the largesse of a private foundation for housing.
Lopez filed a lawsuit against the city, seeking millions of dollars in damages for his incarcerations. The New York Post reports that the suit was set to begin hearings this week. But William Lopez will never see any of that money. He died of an asthma attack on Saturday. The Post quotes Lopez's friend and supporter Jeffrey Deskovic saying, "He wanted to do some domestic travel to other states, and to travel internationally. 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."
William Lopez will never travel domestically. He will never travel internationally. He will never go to college, or to law school. He will never set his wife up in business, or be an entrepreneur. He will never get to see any of his dreams become reality, because of an overzealous prosecutor and a system of criminal justice that often contains little justice. The number of exonerations in America is on the rise—only because we are spending slightly more effort looking for them. William Lopez's family should get every dollar that William Lopez had coming to him. But a better tribute to him and others like him would be for our government to dedicate more resources to exonerating the other innocent men and women who are almost certainly wasting away in our prisons right this minute.