An Asian-American woman wrongfully convicted of arson and the murder of her parents was freed after spending 17 years in prison when evidence emerged that prosecutors had exchanged “racially and sexually offensive emails,” according to reports.
Her first two trials resulted in hung juries before she was convicted in May 2011, according to the news outlet. Superior Court Judge Linda Giles vacated Choy’s convictions on Sept. 17.
The daughter of Chinese immigrants was represented on her appeal by an attorney for the Boston College Innocence Program at Boston College Law School and a lawyer in private practice, the Boston Globe reported.
Boston College Law School Professor Sharon Beckman said Choy was “an innocent crime victim who was instead treated like a criminal suspect.”
On Tuesday, prosecutors filed a notice that they would not pursue the charges against Choy.
“Today’s outcome was the culmination of hundreds of hours of diligence by prosecutors in my office working cooperatively with appellate counsel to identify a number of significant legal issues that we could not ignore,” Plymouth District Attorney Timothy Cruz said according to the Globe.
“The role of every prosecutor is to ensure that justice is done, he added. "Fairness not only dictated our decision today, but is central to every decision we make."
The blaze claimed the lives of Choy’s parents, Anne Trinh-Choy, 53, and Ching “Jimmy” Choy, 64. Choy’s nephew, Kenneth Choy, who was 16 at the time, was acquitted of murder charges in 2008, the Enterprise News reported.
Kenneth allegedly told a friend that he planned and set the fire to get revenge, according to court documents cited by the Globe.
Jimmy Choy allegedly beat and verbally abused Kenneth, his grandson, whom he suspected of dealing drugs, according to the documents. Kenneth Choy testified that the fire was Frances’ scheme and that he had backed out.
In her order vacating the convictions, Giles cited multiple issues with the case, including misconduct by prosecutors and a failure of Choy’s attorney to follow up on leads and find an expert witness.
Prosecutors also exchanged e-mails that included racist jokes about Asians, such as references to a stereotypical character in the movie “Sixteen Candles,” the judge said.
“The trial prosecutors exchanged numerous images of Asian people, some accompanied by pejorative comments, and some unexplained,” Giles wrote. “They exchanged ‘jokes’ about Asian stereotypes, and mocking caricatures of Asians using imperfect English.”
Beckman, the Boston College Law School professor, said that Choy’s "wrongful conviction resulted from racism and other official misconduct and systemic failures,” according to the Globe.
“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,” she added.
Choy is the first Asian-American to be exonerated in Massachusetts for crimes she did not commit, her lawyers said.