Judge, DA, cops quietly admit they sent an innocent 20-year-old man to prison for 16 months

Judge Fitzgerald handed Ochoa the final insult. He mocked Ochoa, his defense lawyer Scott Borthwick, the alibi, and the exculpatory evidence, and gave him an ultimatum: plead guilty before the conclusion of the jury trial and take a two-year prison sentence, or face his wrath. The judge promised Ochoa he'd give him life in prison if a jury found him guilty.

"But it was not me [who did the crime]," Ochoa told Fitzgerald, who has been repeatedly reprimanded for bad conduct. (For example, a 2001 murder conviction was overturned because Fitzgerald couldn't stop himself from making sarcastic, rude remarks about the defense in front of jurors.)

"Innocent people go to prison," the judge said nonchalantly.

Free at last. Photo by Jennie Warren
Free at last. Photo by Jennie Warren
Ochoa praised the work of his lawyer, Scott Borthwick. Photo by Tenaya Hills
Ochoa praised the work of his lawyer, Scott Borthwick. Photo by Tenaya Hills

Ochoa ignored Borthwick's advice, took the deal and was hauled away in handcuffs.

*   *   *

Back at Joe's Crab Shack, still in his first hours of freedom, Ochoa praised Borthwick, who took the case for free because he believed he was witnessing a travesty. But he doesn't have kind words for Fitzgerald.

"Sure, I've got some anger inside," he says.

And he wonders how anyone else would react if faced with the dilemma Fitzgerald posed.

"What would you do?" Ochoa said. "These people who are framing me want me to take two years [in prison] or they're going to put me away for the rest of my life. No way. That's just crazy."

Borthwick has a long list of villains in this tale and Fitzgerald is at the top.

"Judge Fitzgerald made a snap decision that James was guilty before the trial, and he did everything he could to bully a guilty plea out of him," he said. "All we needed was an impartial referee to let the jury hear the evidence. Instead we got someone who has absolutely no business staining the Orange County bench with his foul presence."

For more on Judge Fitzgerald, see "There Once Was a Judge From Nantucket."

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