Josue Ortiz spent 10 years in prison for two murders he didn’t commit.
The question now is, will he go back for something he did do?
Ortiz, who falsely confessed to the double murder and was later vindicated and released, pleaded guilty to an unrelated weapons charge Monday and will face a recommended sentence of up to 16 months in prison. But should Ortiz, given his wrongful conviction, spend even more time in jail?
“It’s a matter of fundamental fairness,” said John Humann, an assistant federal public defender.
Humann plans to ask the court for probation and will point to his client’s mental illness and time in jail to back up his request for leniency.
Ortiz’s case made headlines when it became clear he was wrongfully convicted of the murders of Nelson and Miguel Camacho in 2004. His guilty plea stemmed from a false confession to Buffalo police.
Years later, an FBI task force reopened the murder investigation, and prosecutors eventually charged three other men – Brandon Jonas, Efrain “Cheko” Hidalgo and Misael Montalvo – with the two murders. Jonas and Hidalgo have admitted taking part in the killings.
“He’s back on his meds,” Humann said of Ortiz on Monday. “To put him back in jail just wouldn’t be fair.”
Now 34, Ortiz pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm as part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors. As part of the agreement, he admitted buying a 12-gauge shotgun shortly after his release from prison in late 2014 even though he had a felony conviction from his teenage years in Puerto Rico.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Adler said Ortiz was found with the shotgun when Niagara Falls police responded to a 911 call at his home last year.
“I didn’t buy that weapon to hurt nobody,” Ortiz said Monday. “I bought it for safety.”
During Monday’s court appearance, U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. Vilardo asked Ortiz about his mental illness and repeatedly stressed the need for him to stay on his medication. Ortiz says he has been diagnosed at various times with bipolar disorder, manic depressive disorder and schizophrenia.
“That’s why he got in trouble,” Humann told Vilardo.
Shortly after his arrest last year, Ortiz filed a lawsuit over his wrongful confession and conviction.
In the suit, Ortiz claims Buffalo police detectives coerced him into signing the confession that sent him to prison for up to 25 years. He also claims the Erie County District Attorney’s Office waited too long to support his release from prison.