A Massachusetts woman has been acquitted for 17 years after she was incarcerated for the murder of her parents after the discovery of emails showing prosecutors exchanging “ jokes about Asian stereotypes and derisive caricatures of Asians using imperfect English. ”
Frances Choy – who is Asian-American – was convicted in 2011 of murdering her parents Jimmy and Anne Choy by burning their home in April 2003, but her 16-year-old nephew later confessed to his involvement.
Frances – whose parents were from Hong Kong and Vietnam – was released this year and finally acquitted with her attorneys on Tuesday, believing she is the first woman of color to be acquitted in the state.
The Plymouth County district attorney filed a nolle prosequi on Tuesday, saying they would not request a fourth trial.
Frances Choy (shown in an undated photo) was convicted in 2011 of murdering her parents Jimmy and Ann Choy by setting fire to their home in April 2003. She was released this month after 17 years and is now 34 years old.
Prosecutor John Bradley left the district attorney’s office in 2012 and sued the district attorney for his dismissal. The emails he was involved in contained a comparison to a stereotypical character in the movie Sixteen Candles. He and a colleague mock caricatures of Asians using imperfect English
Frances was 17 when she and Kenneth were rescued by firefighters from the burning house in Brockton and was arrested on two charges of first degree murder and arson in 2003. There were two missteps.
Her cousin Kenneth Choy was later convicted after telling a friend that he intended to set the house on fire in revenge for Jimmy – his grandfather from another relationship – who beat him up when he suspected he was dealing drugs.
Frances was dismissed in 2008, but Kenneth was acquitted a month later. He testified under immunity that Frances had devised the plan and he withdrew.
In 2009, Kenneth had also started fires in the house after he was released and while Frances was incarcerated. That prompted a prosecutor to email her colleague: “I think you should just do that [drop] Frances ‘case right now.’
Kenneth fled to Hong Kong for the third trial in 2011.
Judge Linda Giles – who chaired the trial in which Frances received two life sentences – wrote in her Sept. 17 decision of how prosecutors of the trial “ exchanged numerous images of Asian people, some accompanied by pejorative remarks and some unexplained. ”
The racist remarks include comparison to a stereotypical character in the movie Sixteen Candles.
Giles wrote in her decision that in a conversation about a state Supreme Court hearing, a prosecutor told a colleague that she would “ wear a cheongsam and be origami in the back of the courtroom. ”
Frances was 17 when she was wrongly accused. A prosecutor wrote that she would ‘wear a cheongsam and be origami in the back of the courtroom’
Police had claimed that Frances confessed, but they had no recording options and only an affidavit.
Police said when they questioned Kenneth about two notes he had written about how to set the house on fire, he claimed Frances had ordered him to do it. However, a former detective later claimed it was a lie and they could record.
She also cited other instances of misconduct, including not following other directions. Kenneth’s friend was not interviewed after it was revealed that he confessed.
Kenneth Choy’s friend was not interviewed after it was revealed that he confessed to the fire. He also set fire to the house in 2009 after he was released from prison and then fled to Hong Kong
The judge also noted that Choy’s attorney had failed to recruit an expert witness pharmacist, which could cast doubt that there was gasoline residue on her pants.
State Police chemist John Drugan said there was residue on her sweatpants, but Kenneth was not tested at all.
Obviously, from the time Frances was questioned by state and Brockton police at the age of seventeen, and during her third trial where the Commonwealth replaced a transcript role-play for their most important but least credible witness every eleventh hour, Frances was disadvantaged by a range of circumstances, procedures and rulings, ”Giles wrote.
Karen O’Sullivan now works in the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office and John Bradley left the office in 2012 suing the DA for his dismissal.
The district attorney’s office had previously called the emails between Karen O’Sullivan and John Bradley “ reprehensible ” and “ horrifying, ” noting that they had tried to train racial bias.
The judge wrote that Plymouth District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz has taken steps to provide training designed to raise awareness of conscious and unconscious bias and to ensure that its professional staff adhere to the highest professional and ethical standards. ‘.
O’Sullivan now works in the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office and Bradley left the office in 2012, suing the DA for his dismissal.
Judge Linda Giles, who presided over the trial that condemned Frances in 2011, appeared in a virtual hearing on Tuesday and praised the lawyers for “ their diligent efforts in the interests of justice over the past few years. ” The judge added: ‘To Frances, Godspeed’
The Boston College Innocence Program at Boston College Law School represented Frances in the appeal, and Professor Sharon Beckman, professor at Boston College Law School, said the “wrongful conviction was the result of racism and other official misconduct and systemic failure.”
They fought for five years to get the emails released, and they only came out last year after the Massachusetts Supreme Court ordered the Public Prosecutor to release them.
Usually it’s hard to prove bias or show a violation of the constitution based on racism, but what’s unusual in this case is that the emails show what the prosecutors thought. They wrote down their discrimination. ‘
“She can never regain the 17 years that the criminal justice system took from her, but we are over the moon with her acquittal and hope her case will lead to meaningful reform,” Beckman said.
Beckman said Frances was “an innocent victim of a crime who was instead treated like a criminal suspect.”
“Nothing can take away the pain of losing my parents and how they suffered. I miss them every day. Even in prison I tried to live my life in a way that honored them, ‘said Frances. “I am relieved that the truth has been revealed and that I have my life outside the prison walls again.”
The Boston College Innocence Program at Boston College Law School represented Frances in the appeal, and Professor Sharon Beckman, professor at Boston College Law School, said the “ wrongful conviction was the result of racism and other official misconduct and systemic failure. ”
“Today’s outcome was the culmination of hundreds of hours of diligence by prosecutors in my office working with a professional attorney to identify some important legal issues that we could not ignore,” Plymouth District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz said in a statement. statement WBUR.
“The role of every prosecutor is to ensure that justice is done. Fairness not only dictated our decision today, but is central to every decision we make. ‘
“This may be the first case in the US where a murder conviction has been rejected due to racism on the part of prosecutors,” said attorney John Barter.
Tragically, Frances lost her parents and was subsequently charged with their deaths, prosecuted through repeated trials, and robbed for years after being convicted of having access to evidence to support her innocence.
Despite being sent to prison as a 17-year-old and charged with a crime she did not commit, she is a remarkable person who does not seem to have any bitterness about the world. She just looks forward to living peacefully. ‘
The judge appeared in a virtual hearing on Tuesday and praised the lawyers for “their diligent efforts in the interests of justice in recent years.”
The judge added in a video obtained by CBS Boston: “To Frances, Godspeed.”
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