Jeanette Popp, mother of a murder victim, has agreed to come and speak at the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty on October 24.
Jeanette published a new book this year called. Mortal Justice: A True Story of Murder and Vindication. It can be bought on Amazon.
Her book tells the story of her daughter Nancy’s murder, the wrongful conviction of two innocent men Chris Ochoa and Richard Danziger, their eventual exoneration, the subsequent conviction of the real killer, and Jeanette’s long activism against the death penalty, including a jailhouse meeting with the real killer and her successful efforts to prevent him from being sentenced to death.
In her new book, Jeanette includes an account of a jailhouse meeting with the man who actually killed her daughter before his trial because she wanted to convince him to take a plea bargain and accept life in prison istead of going to trial and risking the death penalty. In the jailhouse meeting, she told him, “Mr Marino, you know I don’t want you executed?”
“Ive heard that,” he answered stoically.
“It’s the truth. I don’t want you to die.”
He shook his head and told her, “Mrs Popp, I’d rather be executed than spend the rest of my life in prison.”
A recent Dallas Morning News article told Jeanette’s story:
Mother of ’88 murder victim says her faith in justice system shattered after exonerations
She thought justice served in daughter’s case, until exonerations
12:00 AM CST on Sunday, February 24, 2008
By DIANE JENNINGS / The Dallas Morning News
When Nancy DePriest was raped and murdered, her mother, Jeanette Popp, was sure the criminal justice system worked.
Now she’s sure it doesn’t.
“I don’t think we have learned anything,” she says almost 20 years later.
Ms. Popp, who now lives in Graham, Texas, sat in the courtroom day after day during the trial of Richard Danziger, who was accused of the sexual assault of her daughter. When Christopher Ochoa falsely confessed to the rape and killing and accused his friend in graphic testimony, “I had to leave the courtroom to throw up,” she says.
Mr. Ochoa “was so convincing,” she says, that she felt a twinge of sympathy for him because of his apparent remorse.
But Mr. Danziger glared at her during the trial and seemed to be “a bit of a smart aleck,” she says.
After the trial, she met with jurors.
“I hugged every one of them,” she says. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. … I couldn’t have thanked them any more for the justice they had given my child.
“I wouldn’t have questioned the police or the prosecution,” she says. And “the evidence was so overwhelming, so overwhelming.”
But on the 12th anniversary of her daughter’s death, she watched Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle say on TV that Mr. Ochoa and Mr. Danziger might be innocent. Another man, Achim Josef Marino, had confessed to the crime, and DNA evidence appeared to exonerate Mr. Ochoa and Mr. Danziger.
“My legs just gave way,” Ms. Popp says.
“I can’t do this again,” she remembers sobbing. “Please, God, don’t make me do this again.”
Prosecutors told her they had been trying for four years to tie all three men to the crime. But the Wisconsin Innocence Project showed there was no connection.When she realized Mr. Ochoa and Mr. Danziger were not guilty, her heart went out to their mothers.
“Chris’ mother and Richard’s mother lost their child for 12 years, as surely as I lost Nancy,” she thought.
She wrote to both men, telling them how sorry she was.
She says she never heard from Mr. Danziger, and when she learned he had been injured in a prison attack, “it almost killed me.”
She felt better when she received a letter from Mr. Ochoa.
“You have no business apologizing to me,” he wrote. “You didn’t do this to me, your family didn’t do this to me, your daughter didn’t.” He blamed police.
Ms. Popp says that at first, she wrestled with the pain Mr. Ochoa’s false confession caused her. “The horror that he made me believe my child went through gave me nightmares for 10 years,” she says.
She doesn’t understand why he confessed or, worse, “how he could have taken Richard with him.”
“I wasn’t in there,” she says. “So I honestly can say I don’t understand – but I forgive.”
When Mr. Ochoa was released in January 2001, Ms. Popp was in the courtroom with his mother. “My heart just filled with joy,” she says.
In a private moment, Mr. Ochoa told her he was “sorry I wasn’t strong enough to stand up to the police.” She took that as an apology.
Ms. Popp also met with Mr. Marino.
Facing the mother of the woman he killed was tough, Mr. Marino says. There wasn’t much he could say, so he kept it simple: “I’m sorry.”
But he refused her request that he plead guilty to avoid the strain of another trial. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, was found guilty and received another life sentence.
Ms. Popp asked prosecutors not to seek the death penalty, because she says she did not want her daughter’s memory stained with someone’s blood. “I’m not a bleeding heart liberal,” she says. “But I do have a heart.”
Since the exoneration, she has been an outspoken opponent of the death penalty. That doesn’t mean she wants Mr. Marino to ever walk free.
“I’m a vengeful mother,” she says. “I want him to lay on that cot in his cell every night and wonder if somebody is going to come and rape him. I want him to stay in that Texas prison he hates so much.”