A man has been exonerated after spending 16 years in jail - because he had the same teardrop tattoo as a serial rapist.
Luis Lorenzo Vargas, 46, was convicted of sexually assaulting three women in 1999 after jurors decided he was the so-called ‘teardrop rapist’, an unidentified attacker who is now believed to have raped 39 women over the course of 20 years from 1995.
But following a longstanding campaign to have him released, a judge in Los Angeles has reversed the conviction after DNA testing proved he did not commit the crime.
Mr Vargas burst into tears as the judge told him he had been cleared - and mouthed "I love you" to his weeping mother, who was also in the courtroom with his daughter
Speaking outside the court, his mother, Blanca Alatorre, told the LA Times: “I still feel a lot of anger. This can’t happen to other people. It just can’t. It’s injustice.”
The real attacker, wanted by the FBI, was dubbed the ‘teardrop rapist’ because victims described him as having at least one teardrop tattooed underneath his left eye. Investigators now say the tattoo may actually be a scar or a mole.
Mr Vargas has a faded teardrop tattoo in a similar position on his face he received when he was 13 to “fit in” with neighbourhood youths, his defence lawyer said.
He was convicted on the basis of eyewitness testimony, but his case was taken up by the California Innocence Project, a programme dedicated to releasing wrongfully convicted inmates.
Despite the decision, Mr Vargas remains in custody because of immigration issues, but asked his lawyers to tell his family he would be home soon,
Attorney Raquel Cohen, of the California Innocence Project, said: “I think he’s let go of any bitterness and he’s just happy to move forward and be reunited with his family, hopefully before Christmas.”
Mr Vargas had filed a series of appeals between 1999 and 2002, but it was not until the California Innocence Project urged authorities to test DNA evidence that he was vindicated.
There have been no known attacks by the ‘teardrop rapist’ since 2013, but police believe he is still at large.
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