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Late one night during the summer of 1999, fifteen-year-old Juan Luna, Jr. was shot to death while he waited for friends outside a taqueria in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. Two women sitting outside the restaurant in a parked car later identified Juan’s best friend, sixteen-year-old Jose Velasco, as the perpetrator. They claimed that the gunman resembled Jose because he had similar tattoos and wore his hair in a similarly distinctive style. Unfortunately, these women, who did not live in Pilsen and were there just to pick up a friend from his late-night job, did not know that many teenage boys in the neighborhood wore their hair in the same trendy style and had nearly identical tattoos. On the basis of their identifications, Jose was convicted. No alibi witnesses were called on his behalf, even though he was with three friends at the time of the shooting several blocks from the taqueria. Sixteen-year-old Jose was sentenced to spend the next 45 years in prison.
The Center is currently investigating Jose’s case and plans to pursue post-conviction relief to set this case of mistaken identity right.