Thursday, January 28, 2010
7 News Investigations: Shattered Lives
In this country, they say you are innocent until proven guilty, but, in reality, you can stay in jail for weeks, months, even years before you get to a trial, and once you are arrested even when innocent, your life is changed forever. How can it happen? Patrick Fraser has the answers in Shattered Lives.
WSVN -- Reynaldo and Krystal were married with two kids living in Ocala, Florida.
Krystal Reyes: "It was awesome. We had a house."
Carmen was single, living and working on South Beach.
Two people who have one thing in common: Their lives were destroyed.
Reynaldo Reyes: "Then, a lady officer handcuffed me, and they told me it was because I had a warrant for my arrest for two attempted murders in Broward County."
Carmen De Leon: "I was arrested in my apartment, bullied in my apartment by a detective."
Carmen was accused of being this woman caught on a surveillance tape stealing a purse at the Dulles Airport in Virginia.
Carmen De Leon: "I do not steal, and I have never been in Virginia."
Reynaldo was accused of trying to kill two people at a Pompano Beach club, but he was in church with Krystal, putting on a religious show for kids.
Krystal Reyes: "I'm like in total shock. I thought it was like, I wanted to wake up from a nightmare. It was horrible."
Reynaldo was brought from Ocala and sat in the Broward County jail for 93 days, facing life in prison while his family lost their home and everything else.
Reynaldo Reyes: "Well, I got my car repossessed. Pretty much all my furniture, she had to sell. I lost everything. I came out to just having my clothes and my family, and that was it."
Carmen was shackled and walked through the Miami Airport to fly to Virginia, escorted by the detective who swore to a judge Carmen is this crook on the videotape.
Carmen de Leon: "I am just crying and praying, crying and praying."
How did two innocent people wind up in jail?
In Carmen's case, a detective from Virginia ran a 5-foot-8 Hispanic suspect through national databases and picked her from her Florida driver's license. That decision left Carmen sitting in a Virginia jail for 49 days, begging prosecutors to look at the tape to see the mistake the detective had made. Instead, they told her she better plead guilty.
Carmen de Leon: "They offered me a plea. They said we have everything against you, we could give you 20 years."
Reynaldo wound up in jail because of a minor arrest 10 years earlier. In his booking photo, he had a scroll tattooed on his neck. The shooter at the club had a different kind of tattoo on his neck, so the detective ran people with neck tattoos.
Reynaldo Reyes: "I popped up. I was one of the two that popped up. It was me and another person with a crown."
So how did two people sitting in jail for crimes the didn't commit finally get out?
Reynaldo got a break when police arrested a second shooter from the club and Krystal went to work.
Krystal Reyes: "So I put his full name on MySpace, and I pulled it up."
On the other shooter's MySpace page Krystal found a friend who looked like Reynaldo and had a crown tattooed on his neck.
Krystal Reyes: "I did the whole investigation myself, and I feel like, wasn't this a job that the detective was supposed to do before he just went and said, oh, you're the guy."
That information was given to the detective a few days later, the charges were dropped.
Patrick Fraser: "And nobody ever said, sorry?"
Reynaldo Reyes: "No."
In Virginia, Carmen's attorney finally got the court to look at the so-called tape of her stealing a purse. The prosecutor realized the detective had arrested the wrong woman and dropped the charges.
Carmen de Leon: "I felt relieved. I also felt scared because I can imagine how many people are in there without really doing something."
Patrick Fraser: "Two people. Two terrible arrests and two lives turned upside down. Reynaldo has two attempted murder charges on his record, his credit is ruined and no one wants to hire him. Carmen is an auditor. When potential employees see theft charges, they ignore the fact the charges were dropped and turn her away. So what can an innocent person do? Not much."
Howard Finkelstein: "I have been doing criminal law for over 30 years and innocent people get arrested, jailed and in some cases convicted and sent to prison. However, rarely can you sue the cop personally and to sue the agency is difficult and can be costly."
That is little consolation for two innocent families. Not only did the ridiculous arrest ruin Carmen financially, it's devastated her emotionally.
Carmen de Leon: "Like now that I am repeating this, I will probably spend like three days without sleeping. I get these attacks, and I start crying, crying and crying."
Carmen would love to sue but doesn't have the money to hire a lawyer.
Krystal Reyes: "I see our life now, we're in one room, we are in someone else's house. We weren't like this. We were on our own."
The Reyeses can't afford an attorney either. They are broke and are trying to start their lives over after learning sometimes even good people are guilty till they can prove they are innocent.
Patrick Fraser: "I'm sitting here thinking this could never happen to me."
Krystal Reyes: "Oh, yes. It could happen to anybody. Anybody. We would have never thought this could happen to us. Never in a million years."
It happened to him. It happened to her. Shattered lives. It could even happen to you.