William Lopez was behind bars for more than two decades for a crime he did not commit. He was released last year, but his taste of freedom was brief.
The 55-year-old Bronx man suddenly died Saturday, just days before his $124 million lawsuit for false imprisonment was set to begin. Friends told The New York Post he died of a massive asthma attack.
“He was always looking forward to being compensated,” friend and advocate Jeffrey Deskovic told The Post. “His life was really robbed from him.”
Deskovic, whose foundation worked for years to free Lopez, said with the settlement money Lopez hoped to travel to other states and internationally.
“He wanted to go to college and to go to law school,” Deskovic said. “He wanted to set his wife up in business, and he wanted to be an entrepreneur.”
"We are proud of the significant role the foundation played in securing his freedom. Bill made it a priority to continue the fight against the wrongful convictions of others," he told The Associated Press.
Lopez had been falsely convicted for the 1989 shotgun killing of suspected drug dealer Elvirn Surria in a Brighton Beach drug den.
He was released in January 2013, after 23 years behind bars, after a judge determined the case against Lopez was “flimsy.”
“In short, the prosecution’s evidence was flimsy to begin with and has since been reduced to rubble,” federal judge Nicholas Garaufis wrote before releasing Lopez.
According to the NY Post, in the 20 months after his release, Lopez was trying to rebuild his relationships with his family – especially daughter Crystal, who was just 14 months old when he went to prison. He also rediscovered simple pleasures like watching football with friends on Sundays and spending time with his wife Alice.
But financially, Lopez was struggling. In a lawsuit against New York City, Lopez was demanding $124 million. The viewing of the case was supposed to start in Brooklyn on Tuesday.
“My brother Bill was greatly bothered by the fact that his life was dramatically impacted by being wrongfully convicted, as well as his knowledge that many other wrongful convictions have taken place without any changes in the system,” his brother Eugene told The Post.
Lopez's attorney Dennis Kelly said a pre-motion conference that had been set for Monday was adjourned to Oct. 17.
"The case can't go forward until we can get someone appointed as a representative to the estate, and that will probably be his wife Alice," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.