An Asian American woman who spent 17 years in prison is going free partly because of racist emails about her, BuzzFeed reports. Frances Choy, 34, who was convicted in 2003 of killing her parents in a Massachusetts house fire got life behind bars—but a judge vacated her conviction last month after the prosecutors' racist emails emerged. "This may be the first case in the US where a murder conviction has been thrown out because of racism on the part of prosecutors," Choy's attorney, John Barter, tells WBUR. According to a judge's motion, prosecutors Karen O'Sullivan and John Bradley exchanged "racially and sexually offensive emails" that degraded and mocked Choy and her nephew, 16-year-old Kenneth, who survived the blaze that killed Choy's parents.
The case itself is a hot mess. Police testified that gasoline was found on Choy's sweatpants, but a reevaluation turned up nothing. Notes in Kenneth's handwriting detailed a plan for the crime, but he claimed Frances directed him to write the notes and appeared to set the fire. Choy's attorneys apparently failed to pursue a witness who said Kenneth had confessed, while police say Choy confessed but retracted her confession. Kenneth fled to Hong Kong before the trial and was later acquitted in the case. Out of all this prosecutors managed to convict Choy, but the racist emails and contradictory evidence led to her release. "It has been a tough and long journey," she tells the Enterprise News. "I'm relieved that the truth has been revealed and to have my life back beyond prison walls." (Read more wrongful conviction stories.)