Josue Ortiz does not exhibit the bitterness you might expect from a man who lost 10 years of his life behind bars for two murders he did not commit.
Instead, he takes satisfaction in finally enjoying the things he missed out on all those years in prison, like family and home-cooked meals.
And when asked Friday what he wants to do now that he is a free man, Ortiz responded simply.
“Actually, I’d like to move on,” Ortiz said.
“I’d like to find a job,” he said. “You know, I’d like to wake up, go to work, come back to my house, watch TV ... just like a regular human being.”
Ortiz, 33, made his first public comments since being released from prison in December after serving a decade for two wrongful murder convictions.
The two indictments against him were formally dismissed by a judge on Friday – a legality that puts an end to his criminal charges. Afterward Ortiz and his attorneys sat down with reporters to talk about his time in prison, life since his release and what’s in store for his future.
Ortiz, however, declined to discuss any details of his wrongful conviction, which stemmed from a false confession in 2004 when he first claimed responsibility for the killings of brothers Nelson and Miguel Camacho. He repeated those admissions when he pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter and was sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.
Ortiz explained that he suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which he received treatment for in prison. He still is on medication and feels “stronger” now than at the time he confessed to the crimes.
“At that point, I lost my mind and stuff,” Ortiz said. I don’t remember a lot of things.”
Ortiz sat in the Law Offices of Wayne C. Felle on Main Street in Amherst Friday afternoon and fielded questions from reporters.
The 6-foot, 6-inch Ortiz marveled at how much things have changed during the 10 years he has been in prison. He showed off his new cell phone and talked about learning to text.
He spoke about how he needed to be mentally strong while behind bars. He talked about feeling helpless having to miss the funerals of loved ones who died while he was behind bars.
His faith got him through the ordeal.
“I’m glad I was focused on God and stuff,” Ortiz said. “I’m a man of faith so I was praying to God every day. I was telling God about everything so He gave me the strength I need and stuff, and so far, thanks to Him, I made it.”
Ortiz recalled the day he was released from prison and shared a home-cooked meal with his family.
“Oh my gosh, it was a great feeling, man,” Ortiz said. “I look into the sky. I don’t see no bars going on ... it was a really good, good feeling – a relief.”
He is currently living with cousins in Buffalo. His father lives in Puerto Rico. He looks forward to visiting him soon.
Ortiz is originally from Puerto Rico, where he worked construction. In 2004, at the age of 23, he came to Buffalo, but spoke no English, which made it hard for him to get work.
He is having a difficult time finding work since being released.
“I just hope for a job,” he said. “It don’t matter what kind of job, as long as it’s a proper job. I can do anything.”
His attorney is surprised how focused on the future Ortiz is when others in his situation might feel differently having lost 10 years of their lives.
But the transition has been difficult.
“He’s a lost soul right now,” Felle said. “He’s trying to find his place. He takes great joy in simple things that oftentimes you and I might forget bring us pleasure. It’s almost like a child-like attribute about life.
“Structure for him right now would be tremendous, such as a job,” Felle said. “We’ve been trying desperately to get him into different workforce atmospheres, but it’s hard. He’s a bluntly honest guy and he’ll tell you everything that happened to him and sometimes employers react differently to that.”
Felle and attorney Elizabeth A. Bruce are representing Ortiz in his anticipated civil case against local and state authorities.
Felle pointed out that federal investigators uncovered evidence of Ortiz’s innocence two years ago and that Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita should have exonerated him then.
“In this case you have federal prosecutors that came out publicly and said Mr. Ortiz was not the appropriate person to have been convicted in this case,” Felle said. “In fact, they had the two muderers in custody. At that time, you would think the case would be closed at that point, that DA Sedita would say, 'OK, we got the wrong guy.’ That wasn’t the case.”
Sedita on Friday pointed to the number of confessions made by Ortiz – he says there were six – and said it was his “legal obligation” to challenge his release.
“We had not been presented one credible witness who could explain multiple admissions and confessions were false,” Sedita said. “Once my office had been presented credible evidence – not someone’s theories, not someone’s claims – the process took two weeks.”
Ortiz said Friday that he is happy justice has finally been served.
What is done is done and that’s it,” he said. “You just got to move on.”