Pushing for Justice, Sometimes One Case at a Time
Most ProPublica investigations deal with large subjects, policy issues, systemic problems. And our “Post Mortem” series, with Frontline and NPR, on the flaws in death investigations in America has been no exception. The series has looked at questions surrounding the qualifications of coroners, and the special issues of autopsies in hospitals, and of deaths among the very old and the very young.
We judge our work at ProPublica ultimately by the impact it has. Sometimes that impact means making a system more just. With our “Post Mortem” installment on “The Child Cases,” it has meant addressing a singular injustice, the imprisonment of a man who insisted he was innocent and had experts and evidence that appeared to support his claim.
“The Child Cases,” published and broadcast in June 2011, identified 23 wrongful convictions, but focused much of its attention on Ernie Lopez of Amarillo, Texas. Lopez was convicted in 2003 of causing the death of 6-month-old Isis Vas, for whom he and his family had been babysitting, and sentenced to 60 years in prison. Our story raised grave doubts about the evidence against Lopez — whom a Texas court had earlier ruled had received ineffective counsel at his trial &Mdash; and canvassed the views of scientists who saw no proof of abuse.
In January 2012, a Texas court overturned Lopez’s conviction. The local prosecutor was determined to re-try him, but in March 2012 Ernie Lopez was freed on bail pending his new trial, and he returned home to a joyful family.
In January 2013, Lopez pleaded guilty to a charge of causing serious bodily injury to a child. The single felony charge carried a sentence of nine years in prison, which Lopez had already served. He was released after a brief hearing on Jan. 4. He is not considered a sex offender, but under the terms of the plea agreement, he is prohibited from proclaiming his innocence or encouraging anyone else to do so.
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