William Lopez spent 23 years behind bars for a crime he didn't commit, and he was finally released in January of last year. But after just 20 months of freedom—and mere days before his lawsuit for false imprisonment was to begin—the Bronx man died Saturday of a massive asthma attack. "His life was really robbed from him," says one friend and advocate whose foundation helped get Lopez released. He noted the particularly tragic timing of Lopez's death: "He was always looking forward to being compensated," the friend tells the New York Post, noting that Lopez wanted to travel. "He wanted to go to college and to go to law school. He wanted to set his wife up in business, and he wanted to be an entrepreneur."
Lopez was accused of killing a suspected drug dealer in 1989, but "the prosecution’s evidence was flimsy to begin with and has since been reduced to rubble," wrote the judge who eventually released him. One witness's description of the shooter did not match Lopez; the other witness eventually recanted. No murder weapon or forensic evidence was ever found, NBC New York reports. Advocates fought for years for Lopez's release. When it finally came, Lopez said, "It feels great to be back on Earth. I'm looking forward to restoring my life as best as I can." He spent his short freedom with his wife and attempting to reconnect with his daughter, who was 14 months old when he went to jail. He struggled financially, though; his lawsuit sought $124 million from the city. This week's pre-motion conference was adjourned until next month. (Read more false imprisonment stories.)