L.A. judge expected to free man imprisoned for rape after DNA clears him

By Olga Grigoryants and Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A Los Angeles judge was expected to free a man on Monday who has spent 16 years in prison for sexual assault after new DNA evidence cleared him of the crimes and linked them to the so-called "Teardrop Rapist," the California Innocence Project said.

The Innocence Project, based at the California Western School of Law, said that Luis Vargas was wrongly convicted of the rape of a 15-year-old girl and other charges in 1999 based solely on the erroneous testimony of eyewitnesses.
"Bad eyewitness identifications are one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions," Justin Brooks, director of the California Innocence Project, said in a written statement.
"It's amazing that Vargas will finally be released after more than 16 years of wrongful incarceration. It's time for him to get back to his family and his life. Hopefully, this new evidence will help police catch the true perpetrator," Brooks said.
The Los Angeles Times reported that prosecutors had joined attorneys for Vargas in asking that a judge throw out his conviction on the grounds that they no longer have confidence in the case. The paper said that Vargas had previously served time for the rape of a girlfriend.
A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office confirmed that prosecutors had filed new court papers in the Vargas case but declined to discuss the matter further until a hearing scheduled for later on Monday had taken place.
According to the Innocence Project, the crime Vargas was accused of committing involved attacks on Latina women at Los Angeles bus stops, which were so similar that authorities believed they had all been carried out by the same man.
Two of those victims were able to escape from their assailant but the 15-year-old girl could not and was raped.
The California Innocence Project said that Vargas was wrongly identified by the victims because he has a tattoo similar to that of the Teardrop Rapist, who is wanted in connection with some three dozen sexual assaults across Southern California between 1996 and 2012.
The still-unidentified Teardrop Rapist remains at large and on the FBI's most-wanted list.
"I'm so pleased that the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office agreed to examine the case and join us in the petition to reverse the conviction," Raquel Cohen, the California Innocence Project attorney who investigated the matter, said in a statement. "This is how cases should be resolved."

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