A woman who was wrongfully convicted of murdering her parents in an arson attack has been released from prison, after spending 17 years behind bars.
Frances Choy was just 17 when her parents died in a house fire in April 2003. She was given two life sentences with no possibility of parole.
But she was exonerated after it was found that prosecutors at the time had shared ‘racially and sexually offensive emails’, according to reports.
The first two of her trials resulted in a hung jury, before she was finally convicted in May 2011.
On 17 September, Superior Court Judge Linda Giles vacated Choy’s convictions.
Choy’s parents were killed in the blaze – Anne Trinh-Choy, 53, and Ching ‘Jimmy’ Choy, 64. Kenneth Choy, Frances’ nephew, was 16 at the time. He was acquitted of murder in 2008.
According to court documents cited by the Boston Globe, Kenneth told a friend he planned and started the fire for revenge. Prosecutors also withheld evidence relating to two other fires started at the home. Just before Frances’ third trial, Kenneth moved back to Hong Kong.
Frances was represented by an attorney who worked for the Boston College Innocence Program at Boston College Law School and a lawyer in private practice.
As reported by the Boston Globe, Professor Sharon Beckman, of Boston College Law School, said that Choy was ‘an innocent crime victim’ who had been treated like a criminal.
A notice was filed on Tuesday (29 September) by prosecutors stating they wouldn’t pursue the charges against Frances.
Speaking about the racist content that caused Frances’ case to be thrown out, Judge Giles wrote: “The trial prosecutors exchanged numerous images of Asian people, some accompanied by pejorative comments, and some unexplained.
“They exchanged ‘jokes’ about Asian stereotypes, and mocking caricatures of Asians using imperfect English.”
Beckman added that the ‘wrongful conviction resulted from racism and other official misconduct and systemic failures’.
Adding: “She can never get back the 17 years the criminal legal system took from her, but we are overjoyed at her exoneration and hope her case will inspire meaningful reform.”
In a statement released to WBUR by her lawyers, Frances, who is now 34, said: “Nothing can erase the pain of losing my parents and how they suffered. I miss them every day. Even in prison I tried to live my life in a way that honoured them.
“I’m relieved that the truth has been revealed and to have my life back beyond prison walls.”