by Ajay Dev
As I write to you it has been exactly 5 years ago to the day since I was sentenced to 378 years for a heinous crime I did not commit. I am still imprisoned in spite of my actual innocence and awaiting my appeal. The process of appeal is long and daunting. Yet, I am thankful always for all of you who remember and believe in my innocence, and your acts of loyalty to truth, justice and overturning a wrongful conviction. I continue to be in need of your support and assistance in order to successfully obtain justice and freedom.
Like many of you, I love my family very much. I have a loving wife and two growing boys. Since 2009, I have been denied these relationships. I have been denied the right to see or hear both of my sons other than through thick plastic windows, or by telephone. It’s devastating for me to imagine that I may never again be able to hug my children or be there for them as they grow up and experience all that life has to offer. They constantly ask me when will I come home so I can play with them, go to the park with them, read to them, teach them soccer and how to play drums. Just the thought of not being able to be there for my family, as most husbands and fathers are, tears at my heart. Each time I do see them through those thick windows, even without words being spoken, their faces, most especially their eyes, continue to ask me, “Why?” They reveal an equally undeserved loss.
My wife shares with me that our children are asking questions about what has happened to me. They understand that I am in prison. We have explained that someone told a lie about me and we are trying to use our good words to explain to the judges that the lie was not true, so I can come home and be with them. But how can I or my wife explain to a 4 and 6 year old that a DA lied in court stating that I admitted to a crime, in a note that did not even exist (prosecutorial misconduct); or that the DA and judge in my trial would not allow evidence that would prove I was innocent and show the accuser’s motivation to lie; or that the police officer didn’t even interview our family, our neighbors or her friends, teachers, and doctors to verify her accusations; or that the judge allowed the accuser to be the translator of the pretext call.
We, as a society teach our children to trust police, DAs and judges. We hold judges, DAs and police on a pedestal because they are supposed to be our protectors in every way. Our legal system is the process that they will learn about in school. We have trials to get to the truth of what two or more parties are claiming happened. It is more than disheartening, more than a tragedy that I have been exposed to the horrific problems in the legal system that are so nonchalantly swept aside by society in general.
How am I supposed to explain this to my children?
How am I supposed to protect my children?
This is a conundrum I never in my life thought I would have to face. Unfortunately, I and my family have had a rude awakening to the nightmare of the legal system. We understand that people are people and everyone makes mistakes, sometimes people will hurt you on purpose and sometimes by misguided belief or mistake. I don’t know which of these led the trial judge or DA in my case to do what they have, but they certainly were very misguided. We need to correct the imbalance in the system, so that our children, my children, can grow up with the faith and belief that they can trust in the legal system and its practitioners.
I could go on about how many innocent people have been wrongfully convicted and swept up in the problems of a broken legal system, stuck in prison without the ability to meaningfully appeal, suffice it to say it is far more than I ever realized. However, I know most of you are interested in my personal story. In Nepal at the time I chose to help the accuser, women did not have as many opportunities as men. I wanted to promote women’s rights in Nepal, which is why my wife and I chose to help a girl advance her career and her future opportunities.
In a country that still practices dowry, neither my father, my brother nor I have taken dowry. My mother was college educated, receiving her Master’s Degree and taught at a University in Nepal at a time when most women didn’t work or go to college.
I have always been a strong advocate for women’s rights. In college I advocated for and participated in marches for “Take Back the Night,” which was a movement to end violence against women. I tell you this to explain that I would never hurt a woman, child or anyone at all, let alone in the unthinkable manner of the accusations laid against me. And before this dark day I have had a clean record, never even being accused, let alone convicted, of any crime.
The tragedy in my life is the result of my wife and I wanting to help a teenage girl from Nepal to have, what we believed would be a better opportunity for her; a chance to have a college education, and to live and work in America – “The American Dream.” Our adopted daughter came to the U.S. in January 1999 and lived with us for the next 5 years. For the first 3 years, everything was normal.We experienced the typical challenges of raising a teenager which were a bit more complicated since we were also inexperienced parents.
She quickly adapted to the American culture and made many friends. We were so thrilled to be able to see her adapt so well and felt so fortunate to have her be like a daughter to us. We hosted her 16th, 17th and 18th birthday parties with many of her friends. We also hosted many gatherings from small family get-togethers to parties of 100 or more.We took her to many places around the U.S. for sightseeing, including taking her and one of her girlfriends to Hawaii. She traveled by herself to visit family in Connecticut. We even took her to Nepal to visit her biological family in 2003.
She had her own personal computer, email account, a cell phone and calling card to stay in contact with her family in Nepal. Unfortunately, the problems began when my adopted daughter’s priorities changed. Her focus was not her career or her future. In fact, she even admitted in a 2004 email to her biological father that the problems began in 2002 when she started to hang out with one of her friends.
The problem escalated after she turned 18 and started college. She began losing much of her Nepali way, her social life became more important than her college career. We intervened trying desperately to bring her back to focus. Even to the point of contacting her boyfriend which didn’t go well. The day after her boyfriend broke-up with her, she went to the Davis Police Department to make her unbelievable, disturbing accusation against me.
When looking back on these events in an effort on my part to try and understand why our adopted daughter, who we loved and cared for just as if she were our own biological daughter, would create such an unbelievable story of sexual abuse, I realized that she could not have known or even imagined the gravity of her initial accusations and the full measure of devastation that her false claims would bring upon me and our immediate family.
Despite the fact that people convicted of this type of crime are told not to talk to the public, or not to let other inmates know what you are convicted of because they kill child molesters, I have chosen to go public because I am confident the truth will reveal my innocence. I know this is a personal risk, but it is one I am willing to take. I allowed that the briefs in my case be put on a website for all to review. It can be accessed on the website www.SeekingJusticeForTheInnocent.com. Within my appellate briefs, we documented the facts of what happened and exposed many of the State’s erroneous findings against me. It reveals precisely how unjust my situation truly is. I respectfully ask that you and all others please take the time to review it in its entirety. Not merely for my sake, but for the sake of justice for everyone. The briefs will also provide details of the case and answer many of the questions you may have that I cannot fully explain in this letter.
I am doing my best to retain who I am in spite of this nightmare and trying to make the best of the situation. I work for the Principal of our Education Department that oversees all the Educational Programs in the prison. Additionally, I have been teaching an Express Math class every Friday from 11 am to 1 pm. The class is geared to help the students pass the GED exam. I am also trying to get a second class approved that would teach College Math for those trying to obtain their AA degree. In my free time, I listen to Reggae music while getting ready for work each day and while I walk the make shift track in our yard. At night I try to relax while playing Sudoku, writing letters or watching television.
After having endured five years of wrongful imprisonment, I’m better able to understand how life’s fulfillment truly emerges from ones individual participation in it and in the overall service of human ideals. I’ve always tried my very best to aim for the fullest possible development of our potential and to animate my own life and the lives of my family with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joy and beauties of being a husband and father. I guess it’s true when one says, “You never truly know what you have until it’s gone.” I know this now with even more recognition.
I am, of course, very concerned about my present situation and even more so about the welfare of my immediate family. However, I’m not writing this request and admonition solely for me. I see much further than myself in this instance and now have an immediate concern for the well-being of all people out there who don’t yet know what I now do about our present legal system. I realize we’re all committed to diversity, and I respect those of differing yet humane views. But in addition to all that, I suggest that we all must still work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties for all and participate in the democratic process to protect each other as members of a family of citizens from all wrongful prosecutions and fully preserve the integrity of our overall right to be free in a secure sustainable manner.
If we stand back and allow anyone, even if it’s only one of us to be wrongfully convicted and swept under the table, it will continue to shatter the protective freedoms that our forefathers fought so hard to create and die for. With it widely being known that our incarceration rate is the highest in the world, freedom for all is no longer what this country of ours is known for around the world. Viktor E. Frankl, a Jewish immigrant who miraculously survived the German death camps, wrote a brief message in his book titled, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” to people around the world who knew what was happening but chose to do nothing that I believe is relevant today. Frankel wrote, “To turn away is to condone.”
I am confident and do believe that the greatest good will ultimately come from and through the united wisdom of people like you. Positive change will come only through wisdom followed by action. It is truly our most precious remaining blessing. From it springs all other virtues for it teaches that we cannot live truthfully without living wisely, honorably, and justly. Nor could we live wisely, honorably and justly without living truthfully.
I genuinely offer my heartfelt thanks and sincere appreciation to all who have and still are conscientiously taking the time from their own lives to help straighten out and correct this terrible injustice, including of course, each and every person among the hundreds who showed their support by attending the past six marches and most recently the vigil held last April for me just outside the Third District Court of Appeals in Sacramento. I think of you all as a family.
With best wishes for the welfare and happiness of all people here living in a country where justice and the true nature of what’s right no longer has to be blind.
Ajay Dev was sentenced to 378 years in prison on August 7, 2009. Numerous community and families members believe he was wrongfully convicted. His conviction is in on appeal at this time.