Frances Choy was in prison for 17 years after her parents died in a fire at their Massachusetts home in 2003

By Harriet Sokmensuer
September 30, 2020 06:41 PM
Credit: Getty

A Massachusetts woman has been released from prison after 17 years of being wrongfully incarcerated for murdering her parents.

In May 2011, after being tried two times before -- in trials that led to hung juries -- Frances Choy was convicted of murdering her parents, Anne Trinh-Choy, 53, and Ching “Jimmy” Choy, 64. The couple  died in a fire at the family's Brockton home in April 2003.

Choy was 17 years old at the time of their deaths. She was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

But Choy is now free, 17 years after her parents' deaths, thanks to “newly discovered evidence of racial bias established that justice may not have been done,” according to Plymouth Superior Court Judge Linda Giles' motion, which was obtained by PEOPLE.

Choy was released to home confinement in April after Giles stayed her sentence before ultimately vacating her conviction on September 17.

In her decision, Giles writes that the discovery of new scientific evidence -- as well as racist emails sent between prosecutors, which allegedly proved they were “were biased against Asians"-- determined that Choy's convictions should be vacated.

"The trial prosecutors exchanged numerous images of Asian people, some accompanied by pejorative comments and some unexplained," Giles writes. "They exchanged jokes about Asian stereotypes and mocking caricatures of Asians using imperfect English."

Choy was tried three times for her parents' death. The first two trials ending with hung juries. Prosecutors claimed the then-17-year-old was motivated by her parents' life insurance and wanting to be with her boyfriend.

In her decision, Giles questioned the role of Choy's then 16-year-old nephew, Kenneth Choy, who was also in the home at the time of the fire, as the prosecutor's key witness. Kenneth Choy was acquitted of murder charges in 2008, testified under immunity in Choy's second trial and fled to Hong Kong before her third trial.

“Frances was an innocent crime victim who was instead treated like a criminal suspect,” attorney Sharon Beckman, director of the Boston College Innocence Program, said, the Enterprise News reports. “Her wrongful conviction resulted from racism and other official misconduct and systemic failures. Frances can never get back the 17 years the criminal legal system took from her, but we are overjoyed at her exoneration and hope her case will inspire meaningful reform.”

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Sign up for PEOPLE's free True Crime newsletter for breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases.

On Tuesday, Plymouth County District Attorney Tim Cruz filed a nolle prosequi, meaning he will not seek another trial.

In a statement to WBUR, Cruz said, “Today’s outcome was the culmination of hundreds of hours of diligence by prosecutors in my office working cooperatively with appellate counsel to identify a number of significant legal issues that we could not ignore. The role of every prosecutor is to ensure that justice is done. Fairness not only dictated our decision today, but is central to every decision we make.”

Following the news, Choy released a statement thanking those who believed in her innocence all along.

“It has been a tough and long journey, but their support helped me stay strong and never give up hope,” Choy said, the News reports. “Nothing can erase the pain of losing my parents and how they suffered. I miss them every day. Even in prison I tried to live my life in a way that honored them. I’m relieved that the truth has been revealed and to have my life back beyond prison walls.”