11 BRONX WEEKLY February 16, 2020 www.BXTimes.com
Bronx man’s conviction overturned after 25 years
BY JASON COHEN
A Bronx man who spent 25
years in jail was fi nally exonerated
for a crime he did not commit.
On Wednesday, January 28,
Rafael Ruiz, 60, who was incarcerated
from 1985 to 2009, had a huge
load taken off his shoulders when
the Manhattan Conviction Integrity
Program and the Innocence
Project overturned his conviction.
In 1985 Ruiz was accused of a
sexual assault that took place in
He was offered a plea deal,
where he would have done 18
months to three years in jail, but
declined, maintaining his innocence.
Seema Saifee, one of the attorneys
from the Innocence Project,
said the non-profi t took on his case
“We received Mr. Ruiz’s case
and immediately thought his trial’s
facts were misleading and he
was innocent,” Saifee said.
Saifee told the Bronx Times
there were several problems with
First off, because DNA testing
did not exist in the 1980s, his rape
kit was never tested. So, they immediately
tracked the kit down
and quickly showed he did not
commit the crime when his DNA
The victim also identifi ed the
wrong apartment and assailant.
She said that the person was
black and named Ronnie, who then
drove her to the building where
Ruiz’s brother resided. However,
Ruiz never went by the name Ronnie,
doesn’t drive and isn’t black.
There was a man named Ronnie
at the time who lived in another
apartment, who was known
to do drugs and often beat his girlfriend.
“It was one of the worst identifi
cations we’ve ever seen,” Saifee
From there the case falls apart
even more. The victim was shown
an array of photos of her possible
assailant and all of them were black
men with Afros, except Ruiz who is
Puerto Rican with long curly hair.
Then she was asked to identify
him through a line-up mirror,
where he was wearing the same
clothes as the photo.
“So of course she was going to
identify him,” Saifee exclaimed.
How could a man who didn’t
fi t the description of the perp be
locked up for the crime?, she said.
According to Saifee, even
though Ruiz was let out of jail in
2009, it was their organization’s
goal to prove he didn’t commit the
While it took 13 years, it was
She stressed that Ruiz never
gave up hope.
“This case highlights the need
to do more testing of evidence,” she
The Innocence Project, founded
in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry
Scheck at Cardozo School of Law,
seeks to exonerate the wrongly
convicted through DNA testing
and reforms the criminal justice
system to prevent future injustices.
Created in 2010 by District Attorney
Cyrus Vance, the Conviction
Integrity Program is the fi rst
of its kind in New York City.
It investigates post-conviction
claims of innocence, and prevents
wrongful convictions from happening
in the fi rst place.
Rafael Ruiz celebrates from being exonerated from a crime he did 25 years in jail for.
Photo Courtesy Sameer Abdel-Khalek/Innocence Project
First new alternative school to open in 7 years
BY KYLE VUILLE
For the fi rst time in seven years,
a new district school in the borough
was approved unanimously by New
York’s Panel of Educational Policy
and is set to open in September.
The Walkabout program, a real
world, hands-on program, will begin
this fall at the Mott Haven Educational
Campus located at 730 W.
The push for the creation or
rather, re-creation of the Walkabout
program came from a former
student, Ben Wild.
Wild was once like most high
schoolers, full of potential, but was
disengaged by the time he reached
high school. According to a Gallup
student poll, only four out of 10
high school seniors are engaged in
Wild then attended this alternative
Walkabout program in Yorktown
Heights and became another
of its many success stories.
During his time in the program,
he worked as an intern at
the American Suicide Prevention
Project where he gained confi -
dence and ability to work in a real
He went on to start multiple
businesses and later become a
Seeing the true value of this
program, Wild and his team of
community collaborators have
spent the last two years working
with Bronx communities and
elected offi cials to make the program
a reality in the borough.
“Kids in the Bronx should
have the same opportunities. In
such a community-driven borough
as the Bronx, Walkabout is
perfectly suitable,” Wild said.
Even though the original
Walkabout programs were
closed in 2014, statistics behind
it prove it to be an applicable
source for students and their futures.
According to the school’s informational
brochure, 89 percent
of Walkabout students
attend college and 39 percent attend
The program revolves around
fi ve challenge areas for students
to navigate: applied academics,
internship, service learning,
wilderness and presentation.
Wild said the new Walkabout
program at the Mott Haven High
School will start with 60 ninth
graders and will add a freshman
class the next three years.
“This is an important program
for all high school students,”
Wild said. “This form of
education should be available to
To Wild, the disengagement
of students from their learning
is an epidemic that is happening
across the country.
He made the analogy that
Walkabout is like a curb cut that
makes it easier to reach the sidewalk;
it makes things simple to
At the moment, the Walkabout
program is currently in
the running for the ‘Imagine
NYC Schools’ competition.
For more information on
the Walkabout program’s mission
and philosophy, please visit
The Walkabout program’s core team: Kam Gordon, Mark Austin (student), Madison Andrews (student), Yesy Robles, Peg
Cioffi , Ben Wild. The Walkabout program will begin its operations at Mott Haven Educational Campus at 730 W. Grand Concourse
next September. Photo courtesy of Ben Wild