The Wrongful Conviction and Exoneration of William Lopez

In 1989, two men entered a crack house in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, and killed drug dealer Elvirn Surria with a double-barreled shotgun. They left behind no murder weapon or forensic evidence.

William Lopez was convicted on the testimony of Daisy Flores and Janet Chapman. Flores, a crack house courier, said the shooter was a six foot, three inch “tall, dark, black man.” The very light skinned Mr. Lopez is more than half a foot shorter. In court, Flores could not identify him as the shooter even though Mr. Lopez was sitting but a few feet away from her at the defense table.

Chapman lived in the basement of the crack house. She had a $200-a-day habit and was on a drug binge when Surria was shot. She testified Mr. Lopez did it. Twenty-two years later, she admitted she “testified against him when I knew my every word was pure fabrication.” Why? Because “The district attorney told me never to tell anyone that we cut a deal about my testimony in exchange for my freedom.”

The Foundation, working in collaboration with Lopez’s pre-existing legal team of Richard Levitt and Yvonne Shivers, provided some critical investigative resources, turning up some additional evidence of innocence, as well as having a hand in the securing of testimony from a witness who had been deported to the Dominican Republic. In response, federal district Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis set Mr. Lopez free in January of 2013. “The prosecution’s evidence was flimsy to begin with,” he wrote, “and has since been reduced to rubble by facts arising after trial.”

The Foundation provided Mr. Lopez with housing and counseling after his release. Less than two years after his release from prison, William died from a sudden asthma attack, only a few days before he was able to be compensated. Lopez's widow, Alice Lopez, eventually was able to settle William’s lawsuit in the Court of Claims for $4.2 million dollars, and in Federal court for $8.2 million.