An Orleans Parish judge on Tuesday tossed out the conviction of a Kenner man just days before he was slated to be deported back to his native Guatemala after serving a seven-year sentence on battery and burglary charges.
Criminal District Court Judge Karen Herman ordered a new trial for Julio Ruano, 49, based on evidence suggesting he was misidentified as the man who stole tools from a car that was left with a flat tire on Interstate 610 in New Orleans, then bit off part of the victim's ear during a freeway fracas after the driver had returned from a tire repair shop.
Among the new evidence was an opinion from an odontologist, or forensic dentist, that Ruano's teeth didn't match numerous bite marks on the victim.
The victim and two other witnesses identified Ruano as the man they found taking tools from the disabled car on April 8, 2010. The victim threw himself on top of the burglar's car and they fought for several minutes.
The victim was hospitalized for three days before setting off to track down his assailant, finding Ruano at a grocery store frequented by Hispanic people.
He was among three witnesses who ultimately identified Ruano at a trial as the man who had bit him, threatened to shoot him and struck him with a pry bar. But according to Ruano's attorneys, Martin Regan and Paul Barker, the witnesses had the wrong man.
An LSU dental school professor, Robert Barsley, cast the identification in doubt after Ruano's attorneys got an impression made of his teeth.
The attorneys also produced a photo of another man who looked eerily similar to Ruano and, according to Barker, drove a green Jeep Cherokee like the one identified by witnesses to the roadside fight.
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Herman ruled that the new evidence "rises to the level of granting a new trial in this case."
A deportation hearing had been scheduled for next week until Herman, who convicted Ruano at a bench trial in October 2011, reversed herself.
Federal authorities grabbed Ruano in October as he left a state prison after serving his sentence on aggravated battery, second-degree battery and burglary counts. He has been held since then at a federal detention center in Oakdale.
Based on his conviction and sentence, "deportation from the United States would have been inevitable" for Ruano under federal law, said his immigration attorney, Luke Abrusley. "He basically had little to no relief."
Ruano, a contractor, first secured a work visa in 1988, married a U.S. citizen with two children and became a permanent resident in 2008, Abrusley said.
Abrusley said he expected Ruano to be released as soon as Wednesday.
"It's good to see the system work for someone who needed it," Barker said. "It's kind of a unique thing that happened."
Christopher Bowman, the spokesman for District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's office, said there is a "strong likelihood" the office will not retrymartin regan Ruano. Bowman cited the years that Ruano already has served, along with a likelihood that Herman, given her ruling Tuesday, would acquit Ruano in a new trial.