On February 20, as part of its recently launched GuiltyPleaProblem.org, the Innocence Project featured the story of Chris Ochoa, a man who pleaded guilty and was wrongfully convicted of the 1988 rape and murder of Nancy DePriest in Texas. In a gripping article for the Marshall Project, DePriest’s mother—Jeanette Popp—discusses her response when she found out that Ochoa, along with his co-defendant Richard Danziger, were actually innocent and had been wrongfully convicted.
I felt suicidal when my daughter died. I had a gun and tried to work the courage up, but then one day my sister slapped me and said, “Do you want to put our mother through what you’re going through?”
I couldn’t do that to her.
It was a high-profile case, and the public wanted results. Our family wanted results. I remember how at the trial, Richard Danziger would just stare at me; he was so adamant about his innocence. But why should I have believed him? I had no reason to doubt the police, the detectives, the district attorney. It never occurred to me to doubt the entire judicial system.
Twelve years later, I was at work when my brother-in-law called and told me to turn on the TV. There was the district attorney, announcing that they’d got the wrong people. It was such a shock that I just collapsed in a chair, thinking, Oh my God. . . .
. . . I felt horrible, like I should have known all along that something wasn’t right. When there’s a wrongful conviction, the family of the victim is victimized again, because you’re going to go through the release and then another trial, and then you’re going to wonder: How could this happen? . . .
I reached out to Ochoa, who was still in prison. I didn’t know what to say to him, except that I was sorry this had happened, and how bad I felt about his mother’s suffering, knowing — because mothers know — that he wasn’t capable of murder.
On the day of Ochoa’s release, I sat with his mother, holding her hand. When the judge released him, I stood up and stepped aside so she could get to her son. . . . Eventually, I pulled him aside and I asked him why he confessed. He said that after so many hours in an interrogation room, with no water and no food, he broke.
Read Popp’s full account and what she did when she met the real perpetrator who killed her daughter