Opinion | This Wrongly Convicted Man Spent 25 Thanksgivings in Prison

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When we spoke this week, Pacheco told me about what he recalled about the moment this year when the judge read the ruling that freed him. “All I remember was looking back, and I saw my grandma and my mother tearing, you know. And, I just kept looking at them,” he said, adding, “I remember a few tears came down my own eyes.”

That is not to say this is the end of things. The Conviction Review Unit still asserts that there was “strong direct and circumstantial evidence” that Pacheco was involved in the incident and that he was “not factually innocent.” Pacheco says that he is still fighting to fully clear his name and has filled a $100 million lawsuit against New York State for unjust conviction and imprisonment.

Our sons are now both 26, his in the Navy and mine in medical school. As I talked to him all I could think of was all the memories I have of my son over those years, watching him grow up, and all those same opportunities for memories that were stolen from Pacheco.

This is the first year in my life, because of the pandemic, that I will be forced to be away from family and friends. But I am still thankful and hopeful because I know that this is the first year in 25 years that Pacheco will be able to be with his family and friends.

When people complain about the restrictions that the pandemic has placed on our lives, when some go so far as to claim that it has unfairly stripped us of our rights and liberties, remember that there are people among us whose freedoms have truly been unfairly taken, people who would be happy if their only concerns were having to wear a mask and socially distance.

Pacheco was wrongly convicted, spent 25 Thanksgivings in prison, and he’s still thankful. As he told me:

“I’m thankful just to be home and be free, blessed to be able to do that with my family and my loved ones. And, when I say loved ones, I mean family and friends alike, you know what I mean. So, I am thankful for that. And, I give thanks to the most high, which is God, you know, and that he was able to make this happen. It doesn’t matter if it’s 25 years, 30 years, five years. What matters is that I’m out here now.”

Pacheco is now living with the woman he was seeing the night of the killing, the night that he himself was stabbed in the scrum, and they will spend Thanksgiving together.

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