Local Firefighter, Wrongfully Convicted - Free Juan Zapata

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   This December, our brother and friend Juan Zapata was sentenced to 15 years in prison after a Jury wrongfully convicted him of Rape in the second. He was denied admitting evidence that would prove his innocence in the courtroom. There was no evidence of any crime ever having occurred and there were discrepancies in the testimonies of the accusers. Juan presented an eye witness to his innocence, a verifiable text message from the accuser apologizing and admitting that she was lying, a video with the clear voice of the accuser saying that he had not touched her and that she would “feel bad if he went to jail”, and even a police report, written and signed by the accuser, which told a completely conflicting story than the one she eventually sold on the stand. All of the above evidence was labeled as hearsay, and was either wrongfully discredited or not allowed into evidence for the jury to even deliberate. Now, Juan Zapata is being imprisoned for a crime he never committed, and all of his evidence of innocence was rendered useless.

   Juan has always had to work hard for everything he received in life. As a young immigrant he learned English, involved himself in the community, became a Karate instructor, a wrestling champion, and even spent time as a middle school and high school wrestling coach. He trained many people in self defense and fitness, including police officers and sheriffs, as well as many military personnel. He has taught many women's anti rape self defense classes, and he even signed up to teach women's classes at the Lovelady center, (sadly, he was unable to pursue this due to the allegations made against him.) Juan pursued his Work Permit and residency and became a well respected Firefighter for the City of Birmingham. Before the false allegations, Juan always spoke a lot about his passion for serving the community, and he was so proud of being a part of the fire department. He earned a great deal of respect for his actions that backed it up. His fire chiefs and lieutenants still speak of him with high praise and admiration, and many high ranking chiefs and lieutenants even showed up to provide character witness for Juan during the trial. Sadly, thanks to the lies presented against him, Juan’s job and even his ability to become a citizen was ripped away from him on the allegation alone. It was his dream to become the first Hispanic fire chief of Birmingham, and a permanent citizen of the United States. Without an appeal, the pursuit of those dreams is hopeless.

   Despite losing his dream career as a fire fighter, Juan saw no reason to stay still and give up. Instead of doing nothing, he became an entrepreneur and started his own landscaping company so that he could provide for his mother. Juan’s character did not stop short of being a great firefighter and hard worker. In his personal life outside of the department, Juan was responsible for the care and comfort of a young woman named Brittney. Brittney was his girlfriend. During the relationship, Britney suffered a brain aneurysm and lost half of her brain in the tragic event. She spent many months in the hospital, and was not expected to survive. Juan spent day and night by her side, ensuring she had the best attention and care. Britney was a miracle, and despite all the odds, somehow survived. Her family stated that it was Juan who gave her the strength to fight. Now, though, she is paralyzed on one side, unable to properly communicate, and bound in a nursing home for the rest of her life, Juan still looked after her, took her out to dinner and the movies to keep her connected with the world, and visited with her daily to give her physical therapy that her family could not afford. He still loves her just as much as he did before the accident. Now, she is left alone, without her only friend, because Juan cannot visit her anymore. The look on her face when she was told that Juan wasn’t coming back was devastating.

   Juan Zapata was a local hero who deserved justice and was denied it. Please Sign this petition to help us bring needed attention to the Judges, and Court system of Jefferson County and the state of Alabama, and even the media, so that others can see a case where a man was denied the very evidence that would have proven these allegations to be false. We respectfully ask that the state of Alabama exonerate Juan Zapata of this wrongful conviction so that he may return to the life that so benefited the community and the family that loved him.

   The life Juan had built was completely taken down by the false accusations of a 14 year old girl. Juan's family and his loved ones worked tirelessly to gather all of the evidence needed to prove his innocence. It was an amazing effort, because they had so much evidence to prove his innocence, no one could have predicted the outcome of this court case. They presented the court with an eyewitness who was present during the alleged incident. His ex girlfriend, Ashley, sister of the accuser, was with him the evening that the supposed rape occured. The Accuser was only in Juan’s home on that evening to visit with her sister. Juan spent the entire day recovering after an exhausting 24 hour shift at the fire department. When he arrived home from his shift, Ashley and her sister, the Accuser, were in his home along with two of Ashley’s daughters. As the girls spent time together, Juan retreated to his room to take a well deserved nap, and play his Xbox to relax. He then proceeded to study for his continuing education as a fire fighter. Later, Juan even took the girls out to eat Chinese food and they all took selfies together in the parking lot. Then, Ashley drove all of the girls back home. No allegations were made at this point, and everything was normal. Juan continued to visit with the family, including the accuser, attending family gatherings and birthday parties with his girlfriend. When the allegations finally arose months later, Ashley stated on the police reports, and later again on the stand in the courtroom, that the allegations made against him were false, because she had been present the entire time. The words of the accuser were taken as evidence on the stand, however, the words of Ashley, eyewitness to his innocence, were treated as if they had zero merit, and she was ridiculed and berated so badly on a personal level by the prosecutor that she left the stand in tears, as if she had been the one on trial. After she had left the courtroom, he then made fun of her whenever she was brought up, sarcastically berating her for standing up for her ex boyfriend against her own family members, and calling her a horrible mother for even having her daughters and sister anywhere near Juan in the first place. In our opinion, she should be praised for telling the truth on the stand, even though it cost her a relationship with her own family, and put her at risk of losing her own children. Ashley had no logical reason to back him up, seeing as she and Juan had been broken up and not even in each other’s lives for about two years. She had nothing to gain, but simply said “Juan and I may be broken up, but he didn’t do this and no one deserves to go to jail for something they didn’t do.”

   After Juan was arrested, He received a text message from the accuser apologizing for lying about him. He was so happy, thinking he had his guaranteed freedom in his hands, so he wasted no time getting the text message straight to his lawyer. The accuser admitted on the stand that no one else had had access to her phone, and the Tmobile phone records prove that the message was indeed sent directly from her phone to his. Despite that the text could be validated and proven to be real, it was dismissed as hearsay by the judge and even the mention of it was promptly hushed.

   Finally they provided a video where the accuser acknowledges the alleged incident being made up. The video was recorded by, and could have been authenticated by the Eyewitness and sister of the accuser, Ashley. It was never shown in the courtroom, and as with the text message, it was not even allowed to be spoken of.

   All of the evidence was dismissed as hearsay, and was not allowed into evidence for the jury to review. The Accuser stood up with only her false testimony. No other evidence was used in her favor. Juan arrived with a video, a text, a police report with a contradicting narrative written by the accuser, and an eyewitness who had no motive to be there except to tell the truth. Somehow, still, the jury and judge took away 15 years of Juan’s life.  When Juan was arrested he lost his career and any hope of finishing his citizenship proceedings. His work visa was revoked, and he was left barren with nothing. The judge let him out on bond until his sentencing hearing. The prosecutor argued that he was a flight risk due to his citizenship proceedings not being finalized yet. The judge decided, however, to trust Juan while he was awaiting his sentencing.  Despite being convicted by the jury, Juan showed up to his sentencing hearing.  He had the opportunity to run, yet he showed up anyway. He knew he was innocent, and he was sure that the system could not be this easily corrupted, that justice and truth would prevail. Surely the judge could see through the debauchery of the allegations as the judge had laid eyes on all the evidence even when the jury had not. Juan had 10 character witnesses show up during the sentencing hearing, to beg for probation instead of incarceration. People who had grown up with him, battalion chiefs from the fire department, family members, friends, and even the family of Britney, the girl in the hospital, who he had planned to go visit that evening, because he was so sure he was going to receive good news that day. Instead of receiving good news, he was sentenced to 15 years and began his sentence immediately.  

   The family that accused Juan had a history of disdain for him. They were tied to him by Ashley, who was Juan’s girlfriend at that time. She had kids from her previous relationships, however she did not have custody of them. When Ashley first lost custody of her children, Juan purchased a trailer to try to help her get custody of her kids back by providing an environment for them to reside in. One night while one of Ashley’s daughters was visiting her mom and Juan at the trailer, the child’s biological father, Danny, showed up unannounced with his new wife and broke into Juan's property. During their break in, Juan asked them to leave and began escorting them out. At this point Danny's wife even began striking Juan. Juan, however, remained composed and continued to escort them out of his house.The couple then made their first false accusation against Juan claiming that he assaulted them even though they were trespassing on his property. Following up after the incident, Danny's family members spent time online harassing Juan by threatening his life; addressing him in demeaning racist remarks.

   Somehow Danny pressed charges against Juan for this incident. However, for this case, the judge ruled in Juans favor because the couple’s stories were scattered and clear lies. Ultimately they were the trespassers, and the judge agreed with Juan’s decision to remove them from his home.  After the humiliation of being escorted out of Juan's home, and losing on the stand in court, it seems that this family was not finished trying to hurt Juan.

   Danny gained custody of all three of Ashley's daughters , even the ones that were not biologically his, and immediately upon receiving custody, additional false accusations were made against Juan. Using his non-biological daughter Alyssa, Danny made the accusation that Juan had molested her. (This was later proven to be false, as Alyssa herself testified on the stand in court that Juan had never touched her or been inappropriate with her.) This means that Danny used not his own daughter, but Ashley’s daughter as a weapon of lies without regard for what might happen to her mental health. Alyssa’s innocence was used to tear away her ability to ever have a life with her mom. Due to this false allegation, the life Ashley was building with Juan was ripped away, leaving yet another victim in the wake of these lies. The additional false accusation then came from Ashley's 14 year old adopted sister who in conjunction with Danny and his family, stated that in a separate incident Juan had violently and mercilessly raped her on the night that she visited Ashley. The state picked up the case and added on additional charges that he was never officially accused of, for a total of 5 charges, and then joined the unrelated cases in one court date.

   Juan and his family worked very closely with their lawyer giving them all the evidence they had. The eyewitness testimony of innocence, photos of everyone getting along and taking photos together, smiling selfies, birthday events, and visits with Ashley’s family including the accuser, up to months AFTER the alleged violent rape. Some of the photos of the smiling and happy accuser were taken as early as HOURS after the alleged rape she claimed had been violent, forceful, and completely traumatic. They presented the lawyer as well with the text message from the accuser where the accuser apologizes for lying, and the video of the accuser saying that nothing happened. Additionally, the police report itself, signed by the accuser, was a completely different story than the one she inevitably told on the stand.

   During the trial itself, the other accuser, Alyssa, confessed on the stand that Juan never touched her. During the initial questioning, she spoke like she had been coached. During the cross examination, she admitted that she had never been touched. Alyssa’s Grandmother, who was one of the ones pressing charges against Juan, also confessed that at no point was Juan ever alone with the girl for anything to have happened. Luckily, due to these confessions, two cases out of three that this family had thrown against Juan were ruled in his favor because they were proven to be completely untrue.

   With a long legal trail of this family throwing false accusations against Juan, the evidence from the accuser herself claiming Juan’s innocence via text and video, and his eyewitness, who was there during the alleged rape, no one suspected that the outcome would be so grim for Juan.

   We believe that the justice system failed Juan Zapata. We believe that he fell victim to a great evil, be it racism, (not a single hispanic individual was present in the jury or courtroom that day) sexism, (the jury was composed of a majority of child bearing age women, and the judge was a middle aged female) or some type of other hidden agenda. The courtroom took the words of an accuser as evidence, but not the words of the defendant. Juan was wrongfully convicted of rape in the second degree, which interestingly enough, was never what he was being accused of. The accuser had claimed a violent a forceful rape. The jury decided that this part was a lie, but that they believed that “maybe” Juan and his accuser had partaken in consensual relations instead. It seems unreal that someone could be convicted of a crime they weren’t even accused of, on a simple "maybe", and with evidence that so strongly disproved the entire possibility of anything happening at all. Juan Zapata was denied admitting this pivotal evidence that proved that he was innocent. The accuser and state prosecutors won a case with only words, and a well crafted story. Had the judge allowed all of Juan’s evidence to be admitted, we believe that the Jury could never have arrived at the verdict they landed on, and Juan Zapata would still be a free man. We implore the state to reconsider the verdict, Approve the appeal, re-examine the evidence, and to let Juan Zapata free.