A crime that shocked New York City 35 years ago was probably just a tragic accident, meaning three men were wrongfully convicted of arson, the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office announced during an emotional court hearing on Wednesday. William Vasquez and Amaury Villalobos, who spent more than 32 years behind bars before being released on parole in 2012, were exonerated after new evidence emerged about the 1980 fire that killed a mother and her five children, the New York Times reports. A third man, Raymond Mora, who died in prison in 1989, was also exonerated. His wife and daughter were present at the state Supreme Court hearing, where Assistant DA Mark Hale said there was no evidence a crime had been committed, reports the New York Daily News.
"I don't know how this case managed to proceed," Hale said. He tells the Times that the drug dealer Hannah Quick, the owner of the townhouse where the February 1980 fire took place, told police that the three men were responsible, but as she was dying last year, she told relatives she had lied. He says that modern understanding of how fires start suggest it was an accident, possibly caused by addicts heating heroin they had bought from Quick over open flames. Villalobos is now 70 years old and Vasquez, who went blind while in prison from what he says was untreated glaucoma, is 67. "Those are years that nothing in the world can give me back, no money, no nothing," he told the Times after the hearing. "It's just like I lost myself in prison." (A wrongfully convicted Kansas man was cleared of murder by his brother's suicide note.)