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Rafael Suarez

Other Assault Exonerees Who Had Inadequate Legal Defense
On December 14, 1996, a fight erupted between 21-year-old Raymundo Morin and 30-year-old Jack Garey in McNeal, Arizona. Thirty-one-year-old Rafael Suarez, who was nearby repairing a car, attempted to break up the brawl, but not before Garey was badly beaten and bashed with a metal bar.

The fight erupted on a ranch owned by Raymundo’s father. However, pursuant to an order of protection obtained by his father, Raymundo was barred from coming onto the property.

Despite the order, Raymundo, Garey and Suarez came to the ranch so that Suarez, could fix the muffler on a vehicle there. While Suarez was working on the car, Raymundo and Garey began quarrelling and bad words escalated to a physical confrontation. During the fight, Morin’s sister, Nerih Morin, called 911 and reported that Raymundo and Garey were fighting and that Suarez was trying to break it up. Before police arrived, Raymundo Morin, Garey and Suarez had all left.

Not long after, Garey was interviewed by the police and said that he had been beaten by Raymundo and Suarez. As a result, police arrested both Raymundo and Suarez.

Raymundo pled guilty to aggravated assault and was sentenced to 3½ years in prison.

Prior to Suarez’s trial, his attorney, Ed G. Distel, interviewed Nerih Morin, who had made the 911 call. She told Distel that Suarez never struck Garey. Her husband, Manuel Alvarado, told Distel, “Rafael had nothing to do with the fight. Rafael was fixing the car while they were fighting. Rafael was not interested in them fighting because it was between them.” They both said they were afraid of Raymundo and did not want to testify. At the time, because of their fear of Raymundo, Nerih or Manuel refused to be interviewed by police.

Distel also interviewed Michael Kibler, who told him that he had a conversation with Garey prior to Suarez’s trial. Garey, according to Kibler, said he was going to testify falsely that Suarez beat him. Kibler said that Garey boasted that after Suarez was convicted, Garey was going to sue Suarez and take his money, his property and his wife.

However, when Suarez went to trial in Cochise County Superior Court in August 1997, Distel did not call Nerih Morin, her husband, Manuel or Kibler to testify.

Based solely on the testimony of Garey, a jury convicted Suarez of aggravated assault on August 21, 1997. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

While in prison, Suarez learned that that Distel’s interviews had been tape recorded and transcribed. Attorney Christopher Whitten filed a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus seeking to vacate Suarez’s conviction because of Distel’s failure to provide an adequate legal defense.

In April 2000, the motion was granted and Suarez was released pending a retrial. In August 2000, the Cochise County District Attorney dismissed the charge.

At the time of his conviction, Suarez was studying to be a paralegal and was working for the city of Tucson, Arizona. He was married with two young children and his wife was pregnant with their third.

By the time Suarez was released from prison, his wife had divorced him, he was penniless and he had lost his parental rights to his children. He sued Distel for malpractice and in 2002 won a $1,045,500 default judgment when Distel failed to appear in court. Distel, who by then had been disbarred, filed for bankruptcy and Suarez was unable to collect on the judgment.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/26/2015
State:Arizona
County:Cochise
Most Serious Crime:Assault
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1996
Convicted:1997
Exonerated:2000
Sentence:5 years
Race:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:31
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No