Facebook > Email > More Pinterest Print Twitter

Richard LaFuente Is Finally Free!

For 28 years, parole officials tried to get him to confess to a crime he didn’t commit. He refused—and never wavered. This is why he is the bravest man I know.

By Comments

After spending 28 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Richard LaFuente has finally been released.
Alyssa Banta

It’s become a familiar scene, especially in Texas: an innocent man walks out of prison, where he’s met by an exuberant crowd of family, lawyers, and journalists. The members of his family hug him, cry, and laugh with relief. His lawyers stand before the gathered press and raise serious questions about how the state could have made such a terrible mistake to lock up an innocent man. They note that while the state will be compensating the former inmate (in Texas, $80,000 for each year incarcerated), it won’t be enough to pay him back for the lost time.

When Richard LaFuente was released from the Federal Correctional Institution in Fort Worth on June 5, 28 years after being sent to prison for a murder he didn’t commit, the scene played out a bit differently. His family was certainly there. Richard, 56, was greeted by his two daughters, his sister, his girlfriend, two aunts, three cousins, and his longtime attorney. They hugged him, cried, and laughed. Richard looked on quizzically as they took his picture with their smartphones. “This is an iPad,” his cousin Jacinta Sales called out as she shot a video. “We have computers in our hands!” Everyone smiled as Richard, bewildered, shook his head.

(Richard LaFuente, middle, with his daughters Regina LaFuente, left, and LaDena LaFuente, right. Photograph by Alyssa Banta)

But there were no TV cameras, no government lawyers, and no acknowledgments from the United States government that it had made a terrible mistake when it sent Richard to prison. No apology, no promise to try to do things differently, no talk of recompense for the 10,260 days taken from him.

Richard was convicted in 1986 for the murder of a former policeman on a North Dakota Indian reservation, along with ten other men, and though those ten were freed decades ago, he had remained in prison, trapped in a brutal catch-22. He couldn’t get parole until he admitted guilt or showed remorse, but he refused to do either—for the simple reason that he had nothing to do with the murder. Every two years he had a parole hearing, and every two years he refused to express false remorse. This refusal was the one piece of dignity Richard had left, and he wasn’t going to surrender it. So he stayed behind bars. “I’m innocent,” he told me when we met for the first time at the FCI. “I ain’t got no choice.”

I believed him—and I wasn’t alone. The murder victim’s own mother, brother, and sister had each testified to parole officials that Richard was innocent; the sister flew to Texas twice to testify at parole hearings, the brother once. Twice federal judges had ruled that Richard’s trial was unfair and recommended he get a new one, but their decisions were reversed by other courts (which itself was a “gross miscarriage of justice,” wrote one judge). The newspaper that had first covered the trial called the verdict “scandalous” twenty years later. An independent filmmaker who has been working on a documentary about the case for the past two years says, “The government’s entire case—every single aspect of it, bar none—was fabricated from whole cloth.” Richard’s lawyer, who has worked with cases for the Innocence Project of Minnesota for more than a decade, says, “I have never worked on such a compelling case for innocence.”

As I watched Richard’s sweet reunion with his family outside the FCI, I couldn’t help but think how he’s probably the unluckiest person I’ve ever known. First he was the victim of a corrupt prosecution, then he was the victim of federal prison bureaucracy. Finally he was a victim of his own conscience. If he hadn’t been so damned principled, he would have been freed years ago.

(LaFuente in his cousin Domingo Villegas’ backyard, in Fort Worth. Photograph by Alyssa Banta)

I’ve known Richard since early 2006, when I began reporting a story on him for Texas Monthly. I stayed in touch with him after that story came out and have written several more stories on him and his case for the magazine and the New York Times. When I heard that he was finally getting an early release—even though the parole commission had denied him parole last summer after he had again refused to show remorse—I was ecstatic. The government had bent, not Richard. He was getting out on his own terms.

The path that brought Richard to this moment is long and complicated. He was born and raised in the Panhandle town of Plainview, with a mother who was Sioux and a father who was Mexican American. In the summer of 1983 Richard, a recently married 25-year-old truck driver, learned from a half sister that he was due a “per-cap,” a distribution of tribal revenues paid to members of the the Devils Lake Sioux tribe, in North Dakota. Richard, who had become a member in 1979, figured he might have a better chance of getting the money if he went to the Devils Lake reservation in person. So he set out for North Dakota in his 1971 Camaro, taking along his brother-in-law John Perez. They got to the rez and eventually found out there was no per-cap for Richard. But before they could return to Texas, the car broke down. Since neither had the money to fix it, they had to stay longer than they wanted, trying to find work. They took up residence at the home of Richard’s aunt Angeline.

On August 28, 1983, a former policeman named Eddie Peltier, 24, was found dead on a country road on the rez, the apparent victim of a hit-and-run. Richard had never met Peltier, but Angeline knew him, so they all went to the funeral. Soon after, Richard took out a loan and gave John money to return to Texas; a month later Richard hitchhiked back to Plainview, leaving his car but promising to return for it. For two and a half years he drove trucks for Mrs Baird’s Bread and Dolly Madison Bakery. He and his wife, Sally, had two little girls, LaDena and Regina.

Then, on January 2, 1986, Richard got a surprise call from the Plainview police to come to the sheriff’s office. When he arrived, he and his  brother-in-law John were arrested by federal marshals for the murder of Peltier. They were released on bond on the condition that they return to Devils Lake. They drove back, this time in Richard’s pickup, and were arrested as soon as they arrived. Law enforcement officials, they were told, had found witnesses who said that on August 27 there had been a big party that led to a big fight; four people, including Peltier’s brother, Fred, said they had seen a mob of men beat Peltier, while one said she had seen Richard, with assistance from John, run Peltier over.

Nine other men, all members of local Indian tribes, were also arrested for the crime; every one of them insisted he was innocent. All eleven were put on trial in April 1986 for murder—one of the biggest criminal trials in North Dakota’s history. There was no physical evidence, and all of the men but one had an alibi. Still, the four witnesses convinced the jury that the mob had killed Peltier. In May all eleven were found guilty, and the two Texans got the longest sentences: twenty years for John and life for Richard. Because the crime had happened on an Indian reservation, the men were sent to federal prisons.

Soon, though, the case began to unravel. Two of the witnesses, including Fred, recanted and said they had been threatened by James Yankton, a Bureau of Indian Affairs cop whose family controlled the rez. Within four years of the verdict, the convictions of nine of the defendants had been thrown out because of insufficient evidence. In 1987 a panel of the Eighth Circuit ordered a new trial for Richard and John, but the full court overruled it; six years later a different federal judge also ordered new trials, but again the full Eighth Circuit said no. “Although the government’s tactics may have been heavy-handed,” the court wrote, “they also were above-board. . . . The government would have been remiss in failing to bend every effort to vindicate the law by seeking out those responsible for Eddie Peltier’s death.” In 1999 John was paroled. Only Richard remained in prison, in Fort Worth, after stops in Indiana, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma.

When I learned of Richard’s case, I traveled to North Dakota myself, where I spent six days reading trial transcripts, then snooping around the rez with Dwayne Charbonneau, one of the other 1986 defendants, as my guide. Every single person we talked to about the night of August 27, 1983, said the same thing: there had been no big party and no bloody fight. The woman at whose house the men supposedly partied told me, “There was never a party—it was lies.” Whoever had caused Peltier’s death, it wasn’t Richard.

Instead, many told stories of being intimidated by the Yanktons. An investigator told me, “It’s their turf, their fiefdom. People are afraid of James Yankton, and rightfully so.” Another man told me of watching a jail trusty wash blood out of Yankton’s Blazer that night. Fred Peltier told me how Yankton (who had once beat him up) had coached his testimony. Why would Yankton do all this? I asked Richard’s Fargo trial lawyer. He theorized: “On the rez there was constant talk about the blood in the Blazer and the family members [being] with Eddie Peltier just before his death.” I tried to talk with Yankton several times—at the casino where he was head of security and at his home—but he avoided me.

I also spent some time with Richard at the FCI in Fort Worth. He was a quiet, soft-spoken man of 48 who had spent almost half his life behind bars, protesting his innocence and hoping for a miracle. Early on, he had told his wife, “I don’t know how long I’ll be here. Get a divorce. Get on with your life.” She did, taking their daughters with her. Richard had settled in to life behind bars, becoming a model prisoner, with not one disciplinary infraction in all those years. He got his GED, learned welding and silk-screening, and finished courses in Adult Basic Education, General Education Development, and Native American Studies.

The thing was, he didn’t have to be in prison at all. In fact, he had been given several opportunities to walk free. All he had to do was confess and show some remorse for the death of a guy he never knew. As early as 1994, after the second federal court ordered a new trial, Richard was offered a deal by prosecutors: confess, show remorse, and go home. Richard refused. “I can’t show remorse, and I won’t show remorse,” he told his attorney. “I won’t ask forgiveness for a crime I didn’t do.” Five years later, in 1999, he came before the U.S. Parole Commission and was asked if he felt any remorse. He said no, for the same reason. (Gladys Peltier, Eddie’s mother, backed him up, sending a statement to the parole commission that read, “Richard LaFuente has been in jail too long for something he did not do. The Yanktons are trying to hide their involvement in my son’s death.”)

Richard refused to show remorse again in 2001 and 2005. Texas Monthly published my story about him in 2006, and in 2007 his lawyer, Julie Jonas, of the Innocence Project of Minnesota, asked me to speak to the examiner at his upcoming parole hearing at the FCI. I did, bringing along a copy of the article. I told her I was certain of his innocence. Peltier’s brother Fred and sister, Andrea Iceman, were there too—they had flown from North Dakota to affirm the same, even though both were terrified of what the Yanktons would do to them when they returned. Once again Richard refused to show remorse. He refused yet again in 2009.

He was given another chance in 2011, at a “reconsideration” hearing. Richard had been feeling optimistic about his chances for parole, a form of wishful thinking because he had recently reconnected with his daughters, LaDena and Regina, and was spending a lot of time with them and their children in the visiting room at the prison. But once again he tripped himself up, telling the examiner, Scott Kubic, “I’m not guilty of this crime.” Kubic responded, “If you’re not admitting any involvement, I presume you have no remorse—you’re not sorry for your actions, because you’re not admitting to anything.” Kubic’s recommendation: “You be continued to expiration, which will result in you staying in custody until your two-thirds date, 360 months. January 5, 2016.” Five more years.

Richard was devastated. “I was traumatized,” he told me when I visited him in August 2011 for a second story. “I felt numb. It took a week to feel my arms and legs again. I thought for sure they’d let me go.” But he was more determined than ever to stick to his principles. “It’s so overwhelming,” Richard said, “what they’ve done to me, to my life. I’m not gonna let it ruin me or destroy my life any more than they already did. You don’t know how many people came up to me after they heard about the hearing and shook my hand, because I didn’t show false remorse. They said, ‘You’re a way better man than I am’—everyone told me he would have shown remorse and expressed guilt. I said, ‘I can’t do it. I came this far, I’m not gonna give up.’”

The next hearing was in June 2013. It was, Richard later told me, the strangest one yet, and also the most hopeful. Andrea again came from North Dakota to testify. “She pleaded with the examiner,” Richard said, “crying and yelling, ‘Richard LaFuente did not kill my brother—he’s wasting away!’ She brought tears to my eyes.” Richard says that unlike previous parole examiners, this one, JoAnn Kelley, seemed to know all the details about his case; he also says that she told him she was recommending a reopening of the case. “I thought for sure I was gonna go home,” Richard told me.

And for while it looked like he would. For the first time, a parole examiner recommended that Richard be paroled, based on his “clear conduct” and all the programs he had completed. “His accomplishments in prison warrant advancement of his release date,” wrote Kelley in her report. “Therefore, I recommend that he is awarded 24 months for superior program achievement, which would grant him a parole effective date of 1-5-2014.” Less than a month later, on July 8, her decision was ratified by the executive reviewer, Stephen Husk. Finally, it seemed, Richard would be freed.

However, the next day, U.S. parole commissioner Patricia Cushwa overruled Kelley and Husk. She signed an order on July 9 saying, “No change in previous decision—continue to expiration.” In other words, Richard wouldn’t get out until 2016. Once again, he was crushed—but again he chose to look on the bright side. He knew he was going to get out eventually, he told me. “I’m taking care of myself, eating protein bars, tuna, nuts, and vitamins. I want to live a long life, see my grandkids, hopefully my great-grandkids.” His biggest hope, he said, was a documentary being done by Los Angeles TV writer and filmmaker Todd Trotter, who had been working on his case since early 2012. Trotter had found extensive documents and put up a website about his pending film, Incident at Devils Lake. “Once he gets up to the rez,” Richard said, “I think a lot of people will start coming forward.”

Jonas, Richard’s lawyer, appealed the denial in September, highlighting Kelley’s recommendation and emphasizing the Peltier family’s vehement opinion that Richard was innocent. “Mr. LaFuente has served half his life in prison,” Jonas wrote. “He went into prison a young family man and will come out a mature grandfather. This conviction ended his marriage and he has not seen his children grow up. His grandchildren have never seen him outside of the prison walls. He has served ample accountability time for this crime and respectfully asks that the decision of the Parole Commission be rescinded.”

And then, for the first time in Richard’s 28-year-long nightmare, someone in a position of authority did the right thing for someone who had been done wrong for so long. On November 4, 2013, both Cushwa and vice-chairman of the U.S. Parole Commission Cranston Mitchell signed a new order, saying, “Void decision dated July 22, 2013. Parole effective June 5, 2014 after service of 341 months. . . . The reasons: this includes 19 months superior program achievement for same reasons as cited by . . . Kelley.”

What had happened? Why did Cushwa overrule herself? Was it Jonas’s appeal? Did a government bureaucrat actually feel a qualm about how the U.S. had treated Richard? No one knows. Neither Cushwa nor Mitchell would comment, and the US Parole Commission, and the U.S. Parole Commission has so far not released any information requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

But Richard LaFuente was going home.

You might think that being locked up for 28 years for something he didn’t do—the nightmare of every free person in a civilized society—would have turned Richard into a bitter old man. But you’d be wrong. Over the years we’ve been in touch, it’s never ceased to amaze me how hopeful, optimistic, and downright classy he has been—even as year after year his parole was denied. Every couple of months my office phone would ring. “You have a collect call from a federal prison,” the automated voice would say. Then I’d hear a very human tone: “Hello, Michael!” I don’t know how he did it, but Richard was always chipper. “I’m doing fine,” he’d say. “I’m reading and writing letters and keeping my nose clean. I’m gonna get through this.”

Others had more extensive experience with Richard’s sanguine nature. His aunt Carolina Soliz and her husband, Arnold, often drove down from Plainview to visit Richard. They would leave shaking their heads. “We’d come back from a visit,” she told me, “and my husband would say, ‘I can’t believe the attitude he has. He can lift somebody up out here better than someone can lift him up.’ That’s the kind of person he is.”

Richard wasn’t always that way. When he first arrived in prison, he was lonely and depressed. He read a lot of positive-thinking books, like Awakening the Power Within. He’d do exercises they recommended. “I had to stay positive,” he told me. “I’d look in the mirror and say, ‘Don’t get depressed. Don’t get lonely.’” Then he started lifting weights, taking out his frustrations by working out. “That’s all I had. That’s what kept me going. I’d look in the mirror, see a little growth in the muscle in my arms, and feel good.” In the winter he walked three miles a day. He had few visitors his first decade. “That was the loneliest, hardest, emptiest time.”

But things got better. In 1997 he began to correspond with his daughters, LaDena and Regina, who wrote and sent drawings. In 2005 he finally met them, though they didn’t really connect. “It was awkward,” says LaDena, who was then 21. “I was ten months old when he left. I knew he was my father, but I didn’t know what to say.” Both daughters were married by then and began bringing their children to visit. They slowly got to know their father, especially as they saw him interact with their own kids. “We realized,” LaDena says, “this is our dad. He’s still young and vibrant. He didn’t commit that crime, and we don’t know why he’s there. But we need to be there for him.” As his parole hearing in June 2011 approached, Richard emailed and spoke to his daughters more frequently. “We talked about what he’d do, what kind of job he’d get, how things had changed,” says LaDena. “I told him about the Wii and PlayStation, cellphones. He couldn’t believe the GPS. His mind is still in 1985.”

She was heartbroken last June when he called to give her the bad news about the hearing he had been so hopeful about. “I could tell he had been crying. ‘They turned me down,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what to do. I need you all to come visit.’” The girls did and showed up Father’s Day weekend for a two-day visit. The visit brought him back from the edge, and his daughters bonded with their father like never before. They talked about what it was like growing up without him, and he talked about his own childhood experiences.

His daughters’ kids—now four of them, ages two to nine—grew more attached too. “They started calling me grandpa, kissing me and holding me,” Richard told me. “I was holding them all the time, kissing them, letting them know how much I loved them. I told them each, ‘Who’s your real grandpa?’ ‘You’re my real grandpa.’ I was holding back tears.” After they left, he returned to his cell and wept. “I had to close the door. I was weeping with joy. It hurt so much. I would love to help them, but I can’t do nothing. I felt so helpless. My daughters—I missed their lives.”

Finally, last week, Richard and his daughters got the happy ending they’d been waiting so long for. LaDena says that when her father let her know about his release via prison email—he wrote in all capital letters, “I’M COMING HOME! THEY’RE LETTING ME OUT!”—she broke down in tears. “I’d been hoping so hard that one day it would happen,” she says. “And then it happened.”

(LaFuente, with his daughter Regina, left, and his girlfriend, Juanita Huron, right. Photograph by Alyssa Banta)

For his first meal as a free man, Richard said he wanted a Mexican breakfast, and his cousin Domingo Villegas knew exactly where to go. Domingo, who lives not far from the prison, led a caravan of cars to La Tortilandia, a restaurant ten minutes away. The group commandeered a long table, with Richard near one end, Regina to his right, and LaDena across from him. On his left sat his girlfriend, Juanita Huron, and down the table were his lawyer Jonas, sister Patty Sepulveda, aunts Florenda Hayes and Carolina Soliz, and Soliz’s two daughters, Mandy Perez and Jacinta Sales.

Richard wore blue jeans, a black shirt, and brown shoes that had been sent to him by Juanita; for the first time in years he wasn’t wearing a beige uniform with his name and number on the pocket. He looked strong and healthy, his arms buff and covered in tattoos (Harley-Davidson, Guns N’ Roses). Richard had on dark prescription glasses, which he needs, even indoors, from all his years welding in prison. He also had a wooden cross around his neck.

The rest of the table sat transfixed as Richard told about his previous twelve hours. He’d gotten no sleep the night before, he said, and this morning he had paced back and forth in a holding cell, shaking with excitement. A crowd of inmates had gathered to shake his hand before he left—guards too. “Then that sliding door opened,” he said, “and the CO said, ‘LaFuente, you’re free to go.’ That was a beautiful feeling.”

He was still shaking, rubbing his palms together. The waitress brought him a tall, 500 ml Mexican Coca-Cola that had condensation running down the sides of the bottle. “Oh, wow,” he said. “They don’t have bottles. You can’t have no glass in prison.” He took a long sip and put the bottle back down. “Wow,” he said. “Man. That’s crazy.” He took another sip. “That’s crazy.

Every few minutes, someone handed Richard a cellphone with a well-wisher on the other end of the line: Carolina’s husband, Arnol; Richard’s aunt Anita; filmmaker Todd Trotter; Andrea Iceman. “How you doing?” Richard said when Andrea called. “I’m finally out of prison!” Pause. “Loretta wrote a song about me? They play it on the radio?” Pause. “What’s it called?” Pause. “‘Prison Dreams.’” Pause. “You tell everybody I’m out and I said hi, all right?” Loretta Stensland, a resident of the rez and the mother-in-law of the first recanting witness, had always been suspicious of the verdicts, and she had recently recorded a song about Richard.

The waitress brought Richard a huge plate of huevos rancheros with refried beans and fried potatoes. He stared at the food as steam rose from the plate and into his face. “This is awesome,” he said. He rubbed his hands together and picked up his fork. “Look at this!” he said. “Metal silverware!” All he had in prison, he said, was plastic spoons and forks. Everyone was watching him, and after a pause, he said, “Forgive me for shaking,” before breaking up his eggs with the fork. He tore off a piece of a flour tortilla and dipped it in the eggs. He took a bite of potatoes. “These potatoes are good.” When he was done, he ordered a plate of chorizo.

Richard’s girlfriend, Juanita Huron, watched him eat. She knew Richard back in the seventies. In fact, they were married in 1978, when she was 17 and he was 20. The marriage didn’t last. The two went on with their lives, and he married Sally. Last fall Juanita was working at a hospital with one of Richard’s aunts. One thing led to another, and soon she and her ex-husband were emailing and talking. They found that they still had some of the same feelings, and finally she visited him at the prison. The two were allowed to hug and kiss at the start of the visit; both were extremely nervous, Juanita told me. “The feeling, after all these years—it was very warm. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.” She found herself falling in love again, feeling the same things at 53 that she had felt at 17. So did Richard, and in December he asked her to marry him. She said yes. He and Juanita plan to settle down in Plainview, where he will go to work for her father, who runs a trucking company.

For the most part Juanita sat quietly amid the tumult. At one point she nudged Richard about some chorizo that was about to fall into his lap. “I’ve only seen you eat out of a vending machine,” said LaDena. “And I’ve never seen you in normal clothes—you were always in uniform.” Richard told a story about how, when the girls were toddlers, before Sally had stopped visiting him, they would fight for his attention at the prison. A tear rolled down Regina’s cheek, and she took off her glasses and rubbed her face. “It seems like it was just yesterday,” said Richard.

Richard told stories about how he had been terrorized by law enforcement personnel who called him “cop-killer”—the jailers in North Dakota fed him dog food, the federal marshals roughed him up—and horrified by other prisoners who called him the same thing but said he was a hero. He told his family about a typical prison day: weightlifting, reading, watching TV, listening to songs on his MP3 player. Richard likes old-school heavy metal, bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. I asked what song he would listen to when he needed a lift. “Coming Home,” he answered, a power ballad by Stratovarius whose lyrics go: “I wake up in the morning so far away from home / trying to make it through the day.”

At one point Jonas gave him a silver bracelet from the Innocence Project of Minnesota that was engraved with the words “Freedom was achieved but the fight for justice continues.” Jonas, who has been working for Richard since 2004, twice filed for clemency on his behalf: in May 2008 (he was turned down) and again last August. Now that he is out, she plans to file for a pardon, which she can do in five years. To Jonas, Richard is a rare client and a rare person. “I don’t have another inmate who would do that,” she told me eight years ago about his refusal to express remorse for a crime he didn’t commit. “Someone who’s been in federal prison that long and is given the key to the door and he won’t go—that’s indicative of innocence. And a real strength of character that very few possess.”

I asked Richard what he wanted from the government, which had taken so much from him. “I’d like to get the real killers behind bars,” he answered, “for them to pay the price.” What about an apology? “That would be nice. I don’t think they’d give me one.”

As for the future, he wasn’t exactly sure what he would do, though he knew what he wanted to do next. “What I really want to do is cruise around my hometown,” he said, “see the places I played at as a kid. I used to go to a place called the Collision Pit, I’d take my bike, go down the trails. I’d like to go to my grandparents’ house. That’ll bring back a lot of memories. I’m gonna have a lot of tears. I’d like to do some traveling. I gotta see New York—I’ve never been.”

After breakfast the party moved to his cousin Domingo’s house nearby. Richard had sent him some boxes of letters, photos, and other personal effects, and he wanted to collect them now. While there, someone pulled out an iPad and went to the website of a fundraising trailer Trotter had made for his movie, Incident at Devils Lake. Hearing about Richard’s imminent release, Trotter had started an Indiegogo campaign the day before, hoping to raise money to actually start filming.

(“Freedom,” the first footage shot for “Incident at Devils Lake,” a documentary on the 1983 death of Eddie Peltier and the investigation that followed.)

Now Richard watched images from the trial 28 years before and saw headlines announcing the guilty verdict. He heard his own voice say, “My name is Richard LaFuente. I’m currently serving a life sentence for a crime I did not commit.” Trotter himself appeared on-screen. “This case begs to be reinvestigated on film,” he said. Richard nodded his head. He had never heard of Indiegogo. He hadn’t even met Trotter yet, though at breakfast, when I asked if he’d ever go back to North Dakota, he said he would. “I’d do it to help Todd out with the documentary. Maybe if I did, someone would come forward and start talking.” Jonas, across the table, was shocked. “Don’t go back to North Dakota,” she implored, and everyone laughed.

Finally it was time to head north, back to Plainview, and Richard got in the truck with LaDena, Regina, Patty, and Juanita. He spent his first 28 years free and his next 28 in prison. He was anxious to start his third act. “I feel clean and pure,” he said. “Yes, they took 28 years from me, but I don’t regret one minute of it. I never gave up on myself. I never gave up hope. I knew I could get to the end, no matter what it took. They didn’t destroy me. I feel like I won.”

(Left to right: Domingo Villegas, Carolina Soliz, Mandy Perez, Jacinta Sales, LaDena LaFuente, Richard LaFuente, Regina LaFuente, Patty Sepulveda, and Florenda Hayes. Photograph by Alyssa Banta)

Related Content

  • TrulyJulie

    Mr. LaFuente, you have integrity of character that so very few possess, and I admire you for it. I am sure the next act of your life will be your greatest — empowered by your hope and resilience, buoyed upright by your integrity, and nurtured by the people who love you and want to see you thrive as a free man. Vaya con Dios.

  • Anne

    What a story. As tears run down my face I find myself Happy and Sad. So happy for the life ahead of you with a big family to ride along by your side. Freedom! The sad part will not even be a second more. You deserve the Happy parts and so much more. God Bless and Keep you.

  • Justin

    Mr. La Fuente, do not give up to prove your innocence. Must solve crime. God bless you.

  • Steven Charles Phillips

    Welcome Home, Richard.

  • Joe Sanchez

    Joe Sanchez
    wow! Praise the Lord bro! I pray His blessings abounds you for as long as you live bro. Maybe one day you will get in touch. Enjoy your family and especially your younger sister! I pray she is doing good. Remember who’s hand was in your freedom! Jesus!
    with love not respect your brother in Christian Jesus!
    Joe (Geronimo ) Sanchez

  • Wayne

    Richard: You are a testament to perseverance, faith and beliefs. Enjoy your time with family. It’s the most important thing on earth.