Wrongful murder convictions vacated after 2 cousins serve 42 years in prison

James Soto released from custody, David Ayala awaits freedom

Leah Hope Image
Friday, December 15, 2023
Chicago cousins freed after convictions vacated
It has been 42 years since James Soto and David Ayala went to prison for a murder they did not commit. Their convictions were thrown out and they were freed Thursday.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- It has been 42 years since two men went to prison for a murder they said they did not commit. Those convictions were thrown out Thursday.

Their family members are overjoyed. However, the defendants can never get back those decades they spent behind bars, serving time for crimes they did not commit.

Cousins James Soto and David Ayala had their convictions vacated by a judge Thursday. They both have served possibly the longest time served on a wrongful conviction in Illinois.

"It's been a long time coming," family friend Diana Gauna said. "A long time. It was wrong always but we are not going to try and think about the past its the future and we are going to try and make up for all lost time."

Soto was released from custody sometime Thursday evening from the Stateville Correctional Facility in Crest Hill and will begin to reacquaint themselves with their families in time for Christmas.

Ayala is expected to be released from custody Thursday evening or Friday.

The judge who vacated the convictions said the two did not receive adequate counsel after the murders of a marine and a teenager in 1981.

Soto said he's grateful to be able to spend the holidays with his family. He recently took his LSATs and graduated from Northwestern University's inaugural class of incarcerated students.