When employees heard the toast, they got suspicious. Police arrested the two men a few days later. During a two-day interrogation, investigators threatened Ochoa with the death penalty if he didn't confess. At one point, one of the detectives threw a chair across the room. Ochoa says he finally gave them what they wanted: This was, after all, Texas – the No. 1 death-penalty state. He was sentenced to life in prison.
After more than a decade behind bars – and a few years after the man who actually committed the crime admitted to it – Ochoa wrote a letter to John Pray, codirector of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, a group at a law school that investigates possible wrongful convictions. The students took up the case. New DNA tests were conducted. Ochoa and Mr. Danziger walked out of prison two years later in 2001 – 12 years after going in.
"I felt like it was a dream," says Ochoa's uncle, Ron Navejas. "We all had our arms around him when he was walking out."
Later that day, Ochoa boarded a plane with family members and Innocence Project workers to fly back to El Paso, Texas, where he grew up. One of the workers, Cory Tennison, noticed that many of the passengers were reading the story about Ochoa in newspapers. So he went to the intercom and made an announcement: Chris Ochoa is on the plane, flying home.
One passenger asked if he could take up a collection for Ochoa, who had no money in his pockets. "So this guy proceeds to walk around the plane with a barf bag," says Mr. Tennison, "and people were throwing in cash. We counted it later that night: It was over $500."