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Rolando Cruz Struggles with Life after Prison

March 24, 1996

CHICAGO (AP) _ Rolando Cruz spent more than a decade on death row for a murder he didn’t commit. Now, four months after being released, he is still struggling to piece together a life outside prison.

``They stole my life. I don’t live my life. What I live now is what they gave me,″ Cruz said in an interview published in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune. ``They changed everything _ kind of like they reinvented a brain and put it inside me.″

Cruz, 32, was twice sentenced to death for the 1983 abduction, rape and murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico. By the time he was finally acquitted last year, Cruz’s case became known as example of justice gone horribly wrong: sworn police testimony turned out to be lies, informants recanted, an assistant state attorney general resigned rather than help fight one of Cruz’s appeals.

Cruz’s new life isn’t all bad. He has regained much of the weight he lost in prison and lives in a modest Chicago apartment with his fiancee. He’s divorcing the woman he married three years ago while he was on death row.

He recently bought a used car and has begun taking classes in political science and sociology at DePaul University, which offered him a one-year scholarship.

When Cruz walked out of the Illinois Department of Corrections in November, he was virtually a celebrity.

He was asked to make speeches about his ordeal, TV crews followed him on a visit to relatives in San Antonio, and an Italian media conglomerate flew him to Rome for interviews and pampering.

But Cruz is old news now.

One of the few things left from his brief days of fame is a 1 1/2-inch stack of business cards from people who spoke to him about possible jobs.

He says he spends part of each weekday afternoon calling the numbers on those cards, but so far hasn’t had any luck. Cruz says many prospective employers want him to change his name, to avoid media attention, before they hire him.

``Why should I change my name?″ he asked. ``I didn’t do anything wrong. Is that another price I have to pay, another thing I have to sacrifice after everything else?″

Cruz says that although he’s just starting to realize the effects of his 12-year legal ordeal, he’s resisted therapy.

``Is there a psychiatrist who’s been on death row for a crime he didn’t commit?″ he asked.

``You know what they can tell me? They can tell me what textbooks they read in college. The point is you cannot even begin to understand what I’ve been through, so don’t even talk to me.″

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