SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- For over three decades, Joaquin Ciria has insisted he did not commit the 1990 San Francisco homicide that put him behind bars. On Monday, he talked to KPIX 5 about how it felt to know he would soon be free.
Ciria was officially exonerated of the shooting death of Felix Bastarrica in San Francisco Superior Court earlier Monday.
He told KPIX 5 in a interview in the San Francisco County Jail Monday that he had trouble believing he would be released, even after hearing it from a judge.
"It was unbelievable. You could not describe that feeling. You know for me to describe that feeling to you...it is no words. It is like you're born again. You know like your whole life is starting again," Ciria said.
Ciria spent more than half his life in prison, and was arrested in 1990 for the shooting death of Felix Bastarrica in San Francisco's SoMa District. His exoneration comes 32 years to the day after he was arrested for the crime.
Ciria's name was cleared through the efforts of the Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) and the Innocence Commission, which was formed in 2020 by San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin. The commission -- an all-volunteer team of legal and medical experts -- spent thousands of hours poring over police reports, court transcripts and other documents.
RAW: Sara Donchey Interviews Joaquin Ciria
Ciria himself said he spent countless hours in Folsom State Prison's law library, studying the law in an attempt to continue to prove his innocence.
"My biggest fear was to die in prison not fighting," he said.
His quest to learn the particulars of his case and the inner workings of the law became something of a crutch for him--a way to maintain his own sanity after years inside prison.
When reflecting on his darkest moments, Ciria said the first two years of his sentence were the hardest.
"I remember you know that every night I used to cover myself with a blanket and I would close my eyes real tight and I said, 'You know what? This is a dream. When I open my eyes, I'm going to be home. I'm going to be home. This cannot be happening,'" he remembered. "And I'd repeat it. I repeat it the same process all the time. But every time I opened my eyes, I was in the cell."
Ciria credits a meditation class he took for helping him to maintain his composure. He said he learned to be still and silent for long periods of time, sometimes for an entire hour.
He also recalled meeting other inmates who he believed were innocent, and said many of them struggled to stay sane.
"They started talking by themselves. They started walking in the yard and they didn't even know who they are no more," said Ciria. "I know that for a fact and I said, 'Man I cannot end it like that. I cannot end it that way. I cannot.' You know, for my family, for my son, I can't. Some people, their minds gone."
Ciria is still being held in county jail while his paperwork is being processed, but his attorney expects he will be released in the next several days.
When asked what he wants to do first after being let go, he said he wants to go for a walk with his son and spend time with his wife.
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