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Josefina Perez

Other Rhode Island Exonerations
In November 2000, 31-year-old Josefina Perez, a single mother with two children, was having trouble paying the rent on her apartment in Providence, Rhode Island. Perez, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who was working, going to school and learning to speak English, asked her landlord to find a tenant for the second bedroom and moved her daughters into her bedroom.

The landlord rented the second bedroom to Rafelito Delacruz, a drug dealer, who moved in with his girlfriend.

On February 8, 2001, police armed with a search warrant raided the apartment and found 32 bags of cocaine, totaling three ounces, and a digital scale in a hidden compartment in the closet of the bedroom that Delacruz had rented. Although police searched the rest of the apartment, they found no other drugs or contraband.

The following day, with Delacruz nowhere to be found, police arrested Perez and charged her with conspiring to distribute cocaine, possession of cocaine, and possession of cocaine with intent to deliver.

Perez went to trial in Providence County Superior Court in June 2002. A police officer testified that the apartment had been put under surveillance and numerous people were seen coming and going and that it appeared drug sales were occurring. The officer said that mostly Delacruz opened the door, but occasionally the police saw an unidentified woman—possibly Delacruz’s girlfriend or possibly Perez—open the door.

Another officer testified about the discovery of the cocaine and a third officer testified that during the search, Perez said she was not involved in any drug dealing and said she did not know about any drugs in the apartment. During that time, Delacruz telephoned the apartment. Perez told him she couldn’t talk to him because the police were there. Delacruz never returned to the apartment again.

At the conclusion of the prosecution’s case, the trial judge acquitted Perez on the conspiracy charge, but denied a defense motion for acquittal on the possession and possession with intent to deliver charges.

The defense called a police officer to testify that evidence technicians had identified fingerprints on the bags of cocaine and scale as belonging to Delacruz and that Perez’s fingerprints were not found on the drugs or scale.

Perez’s landlord also testified that Perez was a good tenant and that leasing out rooms to different tenants was not unusual when tenants such as Perez were having difficulty paying rent.

On July 2, 2002, the jury acquitted Perez of possession of cocaine with intent to deliver and convicted her of possession of cocaine. Perez was sentenced to three years in prison, but a week later was released on bond pending appeal.

While the case was on appeal, one of Perez’s adult education teachers who believed in her innocence contacted David Zlotnick, a law professor at Roger Williams University School of Law. Zlotnick brought the case to the law school’s Criminal Defense Clinic, which at that time was investigating cases for the New England Innocence Project.

Zlotnick and law professor Andrew Horwitz and law students persuaded the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office to reinvestigate the case after Perez’s trial lawyer discovered that Delacruz had been arrested elsewhere and deported to the Dominican Republic. Perez’s trial lawyer helped the Clinic to locate Delacruz there and he signed a sworn affidavit saying that the drugs and scale were his and that Perez had no knowledge of his drug dealing.

In 2005, Perez’s case was remanded back to the trial court at the request of the defense and prosecution. At the joint request of the defense and the prosecution, the conviction be vacated and the charge was dismissed.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/1/2015
State:Rhode Island
County:Providence
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2001
Convicted:2002
Exonerated:2005
Sentence:3 years
Race:Hispanic
Sex:Female
Age at the date of crime:31
Contributing Factors:
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No