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Mother of murder victim says exonerations revealed a broken system

In 1988, Jeanette Popp struggled to sit through the trial of Richard Danziger, who was accused of brutally murdering Popp’s daughter Nancy DePrist at an Austin, Texas Pizza Hut. Danziger was alleged to have committed the crime with his friend Chris Ochoa. Under pressure from police and threats of the death penalty, Ochoa signed a confession despite having no involvement in the crime. He then testified falsely at Danziger’s trial that they committed the murder together.

After the two men had served 12 years in prison (and Danziger suffered serious attacks in prison, disabling him for life), they were exonerated by DNA evidence that proved their innocence and implicated another inmate, who confessed to committing the crime alone.

Popp told the Dallas Morning News this weekend that she doesn’t think “we have learned anything” about fixing our criminal justice system since DePriest was killed two decades ago.

"I wouldn't have questioned the police or the prosecution," (Popp) says. And "the evidence was so overwhelming, so overwhelming.”

But on the 12th anniversary of her daughter's death, she watched Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle say on TV that Mr. Ochoa and Mr. Danziger might be innocent. Another man, Achim Josef Marino, had confessed to the crime, and DNA evidence appeared to exonerate Mr. Ochoa and Mr. Danziger….

Prosecutors told her they had been trying for four years to tie all three men to the crime. But the Wisconsin Innocence Project showed there was no connection.When she realized Mr. Ochoa and Mr. Danziger were not guilty, her heart went out to their mothers.

"Chris' mother and Richard's mother lost their child for 12 years, as surely as I lost Nancy," she thought. 

She wrote to both men, telling them how sorry she was.


Read the full story here

. (Dallas Morning News, 02/23/2008)

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