innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Exonerated Immigrant Finally Released

This article ran in the Miami Herald on Tuesday, August 22, 2006.

Absolved man is freed again

Released once after a wrongful conviction but detained by Immigration, a former Miami-Dade man is free again after officials made a deal.

BY LISA ARTHUR AND CASEY WOODS

Orlando Boquete, the former Miami-Dade resident who was exonerated by DNA of a 1983 sexual assault conviction three months ago, is a free man -- finally.

He strolled out of the Krome detention center alone late Monday afternoon after his lawyers struck a deal with federal officials. The slight, Cuban-born 51-year-old walked down the driveway leading out of the West Miami-Dade immigration facility carrying a plastic bag filled with clothes, brown shoes and a Bible. He wore a Yankees ball cap, a white T-shirt and khakis.

When he reached the gate, he smiled at reporters, thrust his arms over his head, clenched his fists and joked:
``Do you have any questions for me?''

Boquete, who will celebrate his birthday on Wednesday, said freedom is a wonderful gift.
''I'm going to see what the future holds for me now,'' he said.

THIS IS MY NAME
One of his first orders of business was to say that state and federal officials had misspelled his name as Bosquete for years on official documents. He said the proper spelling is Boquete.

He plans to spend his birthday eating lobster with his family in Marathon, and maybe going fishing.

''I don't want a party,'' he said. ``I want to take it easy. I haven't had a drink in years, and I'm afraid a few beers at a party would make me drunk. I just want to enjoy my family.''

A Monroe County judge set aside Boquete's conviction and declared him a free man on May 23, after DNA tests ruled him out as the man who attacked a Stock Island woman in her apartment. He had spent 13 years in prison and 10 more as a fugitive after two escapes.

His freedom was short-lived, though. Immigration officials were waiting at the Marathon courthouse and immediately handcuffed him and took him away because of felonies he had committed while he was on the run.

His family and lawyers were incensed, saying he had spent enough time wrongfully locked up. They petitioned Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release him.

SURPRISING DAY
Boquete's release on Monday came as a surprise to his family, his lawyers -- and to him.

They all had expected negotiations with the government to stretch until Wednesday or Thursday.

''They just called for Detainee No. 631 and said I should report to the deportation officer,'' Boquete said. 'He told me, `You go home today.' ''

After he gathered his belongings, officers asked him if he wanted to wait in the lobby for his family to arrive.

'I said, `No,' grabbed my stuff and just started walking,'' Boquete said later.

His Miami attorney, John Pratt, arrived at Krome first. After hugging and celebrating for a moment, Boquete and Pratt called the New York-based Innocence Project, which had championed his case, to rejoice with his attorneys there.

Then his family arrived. After seeing Boquete free, his niece, Danay Rodriguez, 23, ricocheted between tears and giddiness. Boquete will live with her family in Marathon, where he will work as a landscaper.

''When they called me to say he was getting out today, I didn't know whether to cry, jump or scream, so I did them all,'' Rodriguez said.

Boquete, his relatives and Pratt headed to Versailles restaurant in Little Havana to celebrate his release.

He was greeted there by Luis Diaz, a Miami-Dade man who spent 26 years in prison for a wrongful conviction in a series of rapes committed by the so-called Bird Road Rapist. He was freed last year with the help of the Innocence Project.

The two men high-fived, embraced and started to talk about their time in prison.
Diaz shook his head. ''Let's not talk about that,'' he said.

Boquete's brother, Manuel Comas, 43, watched him from across the table.

''I could show you a photo of him before he was in prison, and you would be able to see how all of this has been like 100 years falling on top of him,'' Comas said. ``He has been robbed. I hope he can get some of that life back.''

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