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Wrongfully Jailed Man Earns Degree

May 25, 1998

IRVINE, Calif. (AP) _ Armed with an intimate knowledge of the rights and injustices of the criminal justice system, a former nurse wrongfully imprisoned for raping a patient in 1990 graduated Sunday with a law degree.

Honors student Mark Bravo, 39, received his degree from Western State University College of Law almost one month after a state Superior Court judge awarded him $3.9 million in damages in a civil rights lawsuit.

``There were times I just wanted to give up. I felt there would never be closure,″ Bravo said as he gathered with friends and family before the ceremony held at the University of California, Irvine. ``But I’m so glad the legal profession has accepted me and given me the chance to be here today.″

Then he reached over and gave a bear hug to his weeping 16-year-old son, Gabriel, who was in the fourth grade when that same legal system locked his father away.

``I felt cheated because I couldn’t see him,″ said Gabriel, the oldest of three children. ``But I never once doubted he was innocent.″

Bravo was a nurse at Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk when, in October 1990, a mental patient named a ``Tony Bravo″ as her rapist. Despite his alibi and other employees who corroborated his story, Bravo was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison.

He appealed all the way to the California Supreme Court, but he lost each time.

Finally, the woman recanted her story and named another man as her attacker. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ordered new DNA tests and the results showed Bravo was not involved. He was freed in January 1994.

On April 27 of this year, the Superior Court awarded him $3.9 million, charging that investigators in his original case ``deliberately and with malice,″ deprived Bravo of his rights.

Bravo’s attorney, Hermez Moreno, said the state has made several objections in the case ``but it’s a done deal.″

Bravo said that after his release from prison, getting a law degree seemed natural because ``I wanted to clear my name and become involved in the process.″

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