Inside Frances Choy’s 17-Year Fight For Freedom Following Her Wrongful Double Murder Conviction
‘I’m relieved that the truth has been revealed,’ she says.
Just before 5 a.m. on April 17, 2003, Frances Choy called 911 about a fire that had broken out in her family’s home in Brockton, Massachusetts.
Firefighters responded and rescued the 17-year-old and her nephew, Kenneth, 16, from their bedrooms. Choy’s parents, Anne, 53, and Jimmy, 64, were taken out of the home next, but both later died.
Choy was arrested, and for nearly the next two decades she would go through two trials that ended in hung juries, be found guilty on arson and murder charges in a third, and spend half her life in prison.
Last year, everything changed for Choy after her lawyers uncovered serious issues stemming from her final trial in 2011 and a judge vacated the convictions on September 17, 2020.
In her decision to set Choy free, Linda E. Giles of Superior Court, who presided over Choy’s last trial, noted multiple issues with evidence in the case.
In one example, she wrote, prosecutors had argued there was gasoline on Choy’s sweatpants, but that was refuted after a new chemical analysis showed there was none, The New York Times reported.
Police found two notes under Kenneth’s bed detailing plans to buy gasoline and burn down the family’s house. He put the blame on Choy, saying the plan was her idea and she made him write the notes, according to The National Registry of Exonerations.
A friend of Kenneth’s had alleged in a sworn statement, however, that Kenneth confessed he started the deadly fire out of “revenge” and then later boasted when he was found not guilty of any crimes at his trial in 2008. Frances Choy’s lawyer at the time failed to call this key witness at the third trial, Giles wrote.
The judge also noted that unearthed emails exchanged between trial prosecutors showed “racial animus against Frances and her family,” The Times reported.
The emails, the Giles wrote, included “numerous images of Asian people, some accompanied by pejorative comments, some unexplained,” as well as jokes perpetuating “Asian stereotypes, and mocking caricatures of Asians using imperfect English.”
Giles said she would have declared a mistrial had she known the emails existed at the time.
Of the two prosecutors involved, one was fired in 2013 and the other left her job voluntarily.
Timothy Cruz, the Plymouth County district attorney, reviewed the allegations surrounding the emails and an independent investigation was launched. Cruz has declined to prosecute Choy’s case further.
“We hope that this case is an example for our community of how we handle misconduct,” he said, according to The Times. “We always choose right over wrong, fairness over bias, and justice over injustice.”
In a statement, Choy, now 34, said her legal saga “has been a tough and long journey.”
“Nothing can erase the pain of losing my parents and how they suffered. I miss them every day,” she said. “Even in prison I tried to live my life in a way that honored them. I’m relieved that the truth has been revealed and to have my life back beyond prison walls.”