|Date / Location:||January 23, 1984, Arlington, Virginia||Conviction:||Murder in the second degree, Burglary|
|Year of Conviction:||35 years in prison||Release Date:||January 4, 1989|
|Real perpetrator found?:||Yes||Contributing cause to wrongful conviction:||False Confession|
David Vasquez was sentenced to 35 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Vasquez, who is mentally retarded, was convicted based on a false confession he gave to police. Vasquez served five years in prison before the real murderer was found. On January 23, 1984, a woman was raped and murdered in her Arlington, Virginia, home. The crime was particularly gruesome – the victim had been hanged using materials found in her home. In the days following the murder, police received two phone calls from the victim’s neighbors, reporting that Vasquez, a former neighbor whom they described as “creepy” and a “peeping Tom”, had been seen in the neighborhood on the night of the murder. This led police to question Vasquez, who now lived approximately 30 miles away in Manassas, Virginia, where he worked at a McDonald’s restaurant and lived with his mother. Vasquez agreed to go with police to the station for an interview, although he repeatedly asked the police why they wanted to speak with him. Vasquez was questioned for several hours by police. He repeatedly told police that he had not been in Arlington on the night of the murder. Police then falsely told Vasquez that they had found his fingerprints inside the victim’s home. Upon learning of this “evidence”, Vasquez told police that he might have been at the victim’s home on the night of the murder, although he was confused about how he could have gotten there, since he did not know how to drive and his mother was working that evening. Although he was purportedly confessing to the crime, Vasquez was unable to describe to detectives what he used to tie up the victim or how she was killed. In his “confession,” Vasquez told police he had stabbed the victim, when she actually had been hanged. Vasquez was questioned again by police later that same day. During this interrogation, Vasquez gave police a “dream” statement, in which he purportedly described the crime. However, every detail he included in his description was one that he had been fed by police earlier in the day. After giving this statement, Vasquez was arrested and charged with murder. Vasquez was questioned a third time, when he repeated his dream for police. This dream statement was considered a confession. Facing the death penalty, Vasquez elected to accept a plea bargain to second degree murder and burglary. Vasquez entered an Alford plea, allowing him to maintain his innocence but accept the conviction and sentence. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison. It wasn’t until three years later that one detective began to question Vasquez’s guilt. In December of 1987, a crime similar to the one in which Vasquez was convicted took place in the same neighborhood in Arlington. Police began to wonder whether Timothy Spencer, the lead suspect in the second murder, also was guilty of the first murder. Spencer, known as “the South Side Strangler”, was found guilty of the second murder along with three other murders. After Spencer was convicted of the second Arlington murder, the detective and the prosecutor focused on freeing Vasquez. The FBI conducted its own investigation, and ultimately found that Spencer had committed the murder for which Vasquez had been convicted and had acted alone. On January 4, 1989, Mr. Vasquez was granted an absolute pardon by then-Governor Gerald L. Baliles. He had served five years in prison, during which time he suffered physical and mental abuse. Vasquez received $117,000 in compensation from the Commonwealth of Virginia. Timothy Spencer, the real murderer, became the first person in the United States to be executed based on DNA evidence.