Three days into his Orange County, Calif., trial for carjacking and armed robbery, James Ochoa weighed his options. He had turned down the prosecution’s offer of a guilty plea in exchange for two years in state prison because he knew he was innocent. But the judge had threatened him with a life sentence if convicted. Unwilling to risk life in prison, the 20-year-old ended his trial and pleaded guilty last December.
Ten months later, Ochoa walked out of prison an innocent man, cleared by the same DNA evidence prosecutors had brushed aside, reports the Los Angeles Times. The DNA at the crime scene was linked to a man who was locked up on carjacking charges. A spokeswoman said the DA “feels terrible” about Ochoa’s wrongful conviction. Ochoa explained why he pleaded guilty: “I don’t want to go to prison for something I didn’t do, especially for life. I’m thinking: How did it get this far? The DNA. The print. They weren’t mine.”