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Pray Frees The Innocent


Mary Boone

John Pray ’71 (right), co-founder of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School’s Innocence Project, helped free Chris Ochoa (left), who served 12 years for a murder he didn’t commit.

No one has ever enjoyed an enchilada dinner as much as John Pray ’71 did on Jan. 18.

That’s because Pray, a University of Wisconsin law professor and co-founder of the school’s Innocence Project, had just helped free from prison a Texas man, Chris Ochoa, who served 12 years for a murder he didn’t commit. The dinner was a thank you from Ochoa’s mother. And, while the food was delicious, Pray says nothing tasted sweeter than the knowledge he’d helped exonerate an innocent man.

Ochoa’s release captured the national media spotlight and earned Pray appearances on “Good Morning America,” CBS’ “Early Show,” and the “Sally Jesse Raphael Show.”

Pray earned a psychology degree from Cornell and attended law school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His school’s Innocence Project, and others like it across the country, help wrongly convicted prison inmates prove their innocence, often through DNA tests that either weren’t available at the time of their trials or weren’t as scientifically advanced as they are today.

Ochoa sought the program’s help in 1999. Eighteen months later, after DNA testing (matching the DNA evidence to another suspect), conducting background checks, and presenting new information to the judge, Ochoa’s innocence was proclaimed. It was the first conviction UW’s Innocence Project helped overturn.

Pray and Innocence Project team members flew to Texas for the hearing Jan. 17.

“By the end of the hearing, when the judge said, ‘You’re a free man,’ Chris was sobbing, we were sobbing, even the victim’s mother was sobbing. It was the greatest time of our lives,” Pray says.

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