Man freed after walking death row

HOUSTON (AP) — A Mexican man who once came within three days of being executed in the death of a police officer was freed today after 15 years in prison. Courts had ordered a new trial and barred key testimony because of official misconduct.
Ricardo Aldape Guerra, 35, immediately began preparing to return to Mexico, where his case had stirred wide interest. He became tearful when he learned prosecutors dismissed the charge Tuesday instead of going ahead with the retrial, said his attorney, Scott Atlas.
“He said after 15 years, he wasn’t really sure how to feel, that he was a different man than when he entered the jail 15 years ago,” Atlas said.
He has maintained an acquaintance, Roberto Carrasco Flores, shot and killed officer James Harris and a bystander when the patrolman tried to question them in July 1982. Carrasco Flores was killed hours later in a shootout with police.
In 1992, Aldape Guerra came within three days of dying by injection before winning a reprieve. Two years later, he was taken off of death row when a federal judge said he didn’t get a fair trial and deserved a new one. An appeals court upheld the judge’s decision and sent the case back to the state court.
Following a hearing earlier this year, Judge Frank Maloney on Monday refused to allow much of the witness testimony and statements in a retrial, saying they were tainted by police and prosecutors’ misconduct.
Witnesses were intimidated, threatened or allowed to see Aldape Guerra, in handcuffs, before a police lineup, Maloney said.
“It kind of hurts when the judge says you can’t use six of the witnesses who said he did it,” said District Attorney John B. Holmes, adding that he did not believe prosecutors could successfully appeal Maloney’s ruling.
Aldape Guerra’s court hearings were routinely attended by Mexico’s consul general, who also arranged for the legal help that led to his release. His story has prompted ballads in Spanish about a young man wrongly accused of a crime. Mexico does not have capital punishment.