Nightline: Convict's Letter Reopens Murder Case

When two men were convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of 20-year-old Nancy DePriest, her mother Jeanette Popp took comfort that justice had been done.

But another man, Josef Marino says he is responsible for the attack on DePriest. "I'm the sole perpetrator. I'm the one who robbed her. I'm the one that raped her. I'm the one who murdered her," he says.

Nancy DePriest, a young wife and mother, had been opening the Pizza Hut where she worked when she was attacked. In his confession, Marino described how he shot DePriest in the back of the head. But police had never suspected Marino. Under intense pressure to solve the crime, Austin, Texas police instead focused on Christopher Ochoa and Richard Danziger after a tip that the two had been hanging around the restaurant asking questions about DePriest's death and toasting her memory.

Sgt. Hector Polanco, an investigator with reputation for being able to solve even the toughest cases, was on the case. And true to form, Polanco quickly closed the case. How did he solve a murder with no witnesses and no murder weapon? He obtained a signed confession from Ochoa. And Ochoa implicated his friend Danziger and testified against him in court.

Danziger insisted he was innocent. Nevertheless, the jury convicted and sentenced him to life in prison. Ochoa pleaded guilty and also received a life sentence.

Eight years later, startling new evidence would change everything.

Finding God and a Confession

In 1996, Josef Marino, in prison for robbery and sexual assault, found religion and sent a startling confession letter to police. "I am 100 percent responsible for the death, the robbery, rape and murder of Miss DePriest," Marino wrote. "I told [the police] the details of the case. I told them that I acted alone. I told them I had physical evidence ready to be picked up," said Marino. Indeed, officers found a moneybag at Marino's house, handcuffs that were used on DePriest and even the gun Marino said was the murder weapon.

Two years would pass while police attempted to find a link between Marino and the two convicts and before they would notify the District Attorney's office of the confession letter. During which time, Marino kept on confessing to anyone who would listen, insisting all the while he acted alone. He even confessed to then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush, writing "You are legally and morally obligated to contact Danziger and Ochoa's attorneys." But Marino never got any response.

In August 2000, during the midst of the presidential campaign, Marino's confession finally got some attention. But there was reason enough to believe Ochoa and Danziger were guilty. In 1998, Ochoa maintained his guilt when police officers visited him in prison. Ochoa now says he was afraid the officers were trying to implicate him in yet another crime. To stay out of trouble, Ochoa says he told them what he thought they wanted to hear.

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