Years served: 24
Charges: Murder, Felony Murder, Robbery, Conspiracy, two Weapons Violations.
Sentence: Life imprisonment with a thirty-year parole disqualifier on the murder charge, plus a consecutive sentence of twenty years with a ten-year parole disqualifier on the robbery charge.
Factors Contributing to Wrongful Conviction: Mistaken Identification; False Confession; Perjury or False Accusation; Police Misconduct (Suppression of Exculpatory Evidence); and Ineffective assistance of counsel
Date Centurion’s Involvement began: 2016
Date Freed: November 8, 2017
Exonerated: April 6, 2018
Ralph Lee spent more than 24 years in a New Jersey prison, wrongfully convicted of robbery and the murder of a young video store clerk, Tito Marino. He initially denied involvement but after his alleged accomplice Eric Kelley confessed, detectives interrogated Ralph again and elicited a false confession very similar to Kelley’s. Ralph almost immediately recanted the confession and presented a number of witnesses in support of his alibi defense. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, and ineligible for parole for 33 years. Eric Kelley was also convicted in a separate trial. Neither Ralph Lee nor Eric Kelley had anything to do with the crimes.
During his time in prison, Ralph fought tirelessly to prove his innocence. In 2010, Kelley obtained a court order to conduct DNA testing of several items of evidence recovered from the crime scene using new technology. The testing wasn’t completed until December 2014 and it showed that a third party, a man who had committed a similar robbery three years earlier was likely the murderer. In 2015, Centurion took Ralph’s case. As Ralph’s prospects for freedom improved, his health declined to the point that he could not make several court appearances. A new trial was ordered in September of 2017, and he was finally freed on bail on November 8, 2017, to await retrial. On April 6, 2018, the Passaic County Prosecutor, Camelia Valdes decided not to retry the case.
With support from his family and Centurion, Ralph is finally getting his life back.