From Behind Bars To Taking The Bar

About 40,000 men and women are earning their law degrees this spring, but you can bet none of them has a story like Christopher Ochoa's.

"It's like, sometimes so overwhelming I can't get my breath out," Ochoa tells CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers. "It's I think one of the happiest moments in my life, after so much turmoil."

Turmoil is an understatement. Back in 1988, Ochoa was arrested for the rape and murder of a young Texas woman. Even though he had nothing to do with the crime, he says the police forced a confession from him by convincing him he might otherwise be executed.

Ochoa explains, "They even went so far as to grab my arm and say 'this is where the needle's gonna go if you don't cooperate.'"

In exchange for his confession, Ochoa received life in prison. But eventually, the real killer confessed. And in January of 2001, after 12 years behind bars, lawyers from the University of Wisconsin's Innocence Project convinced the court to set him free.


Reporter's Notebook: Facing Freedom
Then Ochoa made an extraordinary decision: to become part of the very same legal system he felt had betrayed him. He followed his lawyers back to Madison and enrolled in law school. He says, "There's times, I mean, I've had a tough go of it. But then, as I told my professors, 'hey, this can't be as bad as prison. I made it through prison, why can't I make it through law school?'"

Ochoa spoke Friday at his graduation. John Pray, the man who was once his lawyer, then his professor, and now a colleague, was there. Pray compares Ochoa's accomplishments to "climbing Mt. Everest, I guess. The challenges before him and having to negotiate all of those hurdles."

He spent nearly a third of his life behind bars, but Ochoa says he's not angry: "I don't want to be angry. I wouldn't have got this far, to get a law degree, by being angry."

Remarkably, Ochoa might want to become a prosecutor — so he can keep bad cases such as his from ever coming to court.