DNA Exonerates New York Man for 1985 Rape After 25 Years in Jail: 'I Have My Freedom'

Rafael Ruiz was convicted when he was 25 years old

Thanks to recent DNA testing, a New York man was exonerated this week after spending a full 25-year sentence in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Rafael Ruiz was wrongly convicted at 25 years old after being accused of sexually assaulting a woman in East Harlem in 1984, according to the Innocence Project.

He was released on parole in 2009, ABC News reported.

After the attack, the victim described another man who lived across the hall from Ruiz’s brother as her attacker, ABC News reported.

When detectives asked the victim to try to identify the apartment where her attacker came from, she pointed to Ruiz’s brother’s home, and Ruiz himself was asked to come to the precinct where he was photographed and picked from a lineup.

Ruiz was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 8 ⅓ to 25 years in prison. Prior to his conviction, he rejected a guilty plea deal and maintained his innocence.

“I was a man who went to court and went to trial to prove his innocence, but I was treated like I was already guilty when I stepped in there,” Ruiz told the Innocence Project about his trial.

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On Tuesday, Ruiz, now 60, was exonerated from the crime after newly tested DNA from the victim’s sexual assault kit was found by the Innocence Project and the Manhattan District Attorney Office’s Conviction Integrity Program, according to ABC News.

“I was thinking about my freedom the entire time I was sitting there,” Ruiz told the outlet.

The prosectors at Ruiz’s conviction shared that, “The complainant’s current account of her 1984 assault differed significantly from her initial statements to investigators, the medical evidence, and her testimony at trial. She said that the detective was pushing her to identify the guy and told her that this guy is hurting women.”

A representative from the Innocence Project did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

Ruiz told the Innocence Project that his exoneration “might be one of the cases or life stories in those law books that someone can use” and he hopes it “can help them out with their cases.”

“That makes me feel good because I would like to see [innocent] people who got accused of doing a crime not go back into the system or lose their families or loved ones,” he added.

According to the Innocence Project, more than 367 wrongful convictions in the United States have been overturned after further DNA evidence came into play.

He added: “I have my freedom and now I can go on with my life.”

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