LODI, Calif. — A Lodi man who was wrongfully incarcerated for 12 years had his conviction reversed and all charges against him dropped due to the work of the Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP).
Juan Bautista, 31, was falsely convicted for a 2009 shooting in Lodi. According to a press release, Bautista was 19 at the time he was arrested for trespassing at an apartment complex in Lodi. It was a misdemeanor crime, but a shooting had occurred just 24 hours earlier during a party at the same complex.
Lawyers with NCIP believe that because of that misdemeanor arrest, Bautista's photo was included in a photo line up for the shooting.
Two witnesses identified Bautista as the shooter, and though no physical evidence connected him to the crime, he was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 40 years to life.
However, Bautista's conviction was a case of mistaken identity.
"Weeks after his sentencing, Bautista’s brother, who is a near-twin in appearance, confessed that he was the actual perpetrator of the shooting," the press release said.
The confession triggered a process to have Juan Bautista's name cleared as early as June 2012, but his initial petitions were denied by the San Joaquin Superior Court.
“This case really highlights the risk of relying heavily on eyewitness identification to deprive someone of their freedom,” Kelley Fleming, NCIP attorney who worked on the case, said in the press release.
New testimony from a friend of the brother who said she witnessed the brother commit the 2009 Lodi shooting eventually helped free Juan Bautista.
Bautista has now been released from the San Joaquin County Jail and will be able to go home and live with his loved ones, including his 12-year-old daughter.
While incarcerated, Bautista completed his GED and began pursuing a degree in psychology.
As Bautista adjusts to life outside of prison, his wife and young daughter, as well as extended family, are ready to support him.
“Making the transition from wrongful incarceration to freedom is often difficult for our exonerated clients,” Fleming said in the press release. “However, with Mr. Bautista’s strong family support and demonstrated ability to rise above the hardships in his life, I have every confidence that he will be able to successfully make that transition.”
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