Free Bird?

New evidence may exonerate Luis Diaz, imprisoned for 26 years as the Bird Road Rapist

If exonerated Wednesday, Diaz will be the 161st person nationwide to be freed because of DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project's Colin Starger, who has been working on the Diaz case with Barry Scheck. Last week Scheck was in Miami conferring with the Diaz family and conducting delicate negotiations with the State Attorney's Office.

In a brief phone conversation this past Monday, Scheck expressed dismay that word of the Diaz hearing had reached the media. "I don't care what newspaper gets what story. The only thing I care about is that an innocent man has been in jail for 26 years and this is his last chance to walk out," Scheck said. "The papers have not been signed by [State Attorney] Kathy Rundle yet, and we are extremely nervous about the sensitivity of these proceedings."

It is Rundle's decision whether to grant Diaz a complete exoneration rather than a new trial, or indeed to allow the hearing to go forward at all. If every legal detail isn't just so, Diaz, as an immigrant, could find himself incarcerated again, this time at Krome Detention Center, in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

Scheck did confirm that the new element in the Diaz case pertained to DNA evidence. The Diaz family declined comment and referred calls to Scheck, who would not elaborate further.

Though Snyder says Nuñez positively identified the real rapists in his jailhouse confession, it is unknown if authorities are seeking new suspects or testing the recovered sample in the hopes the DNA will match up with someone else in law-enforcement databases. The Bird Road rapes could, again, be unsolved crimes.

New Times fellow Emily Witt contributed to this report.

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