Juan Rayford Jr. was 17-years old when he was wrongfully accused of attempted murder and ultimately sentenced with life imprisonment despite his non-involvement in the crime. Now at 32-years old, Rayford Jr. has spent 15 years of his life behind bars and he still dreams that he could one day be free.
As a teenager, Rayford Jr. had dreams of playing college football, then eventually enter the NFL, and succeed in life. But his life turned upside down in 2004 while he was at a house party playing video games with some friends and an altercation ensued between one of his friends and another person.
“The friend and the other guy had a long-standing beef and it spilled over to a fight and Juan and everybody came running,” said Juan Rayford Sr., Rayford Jr.’s father who was an ex-military. “Shots were fired, and when the police came, they took names and wanted to know who did what. My son did nothing wrong, he had no gun and there were some shots fired but nobody was hit, nobody was hurt.”
Everyone on the scene was questioned but later on, the investigation focused only on Rayford Jr. and another teen, Dupree Glass. Several witnesses and the homeowner initially gave their statement to police where they stated that the teens weren’t involved and did not possess a gun. No one was shot or injured as well.
However, Rayford Jr. and Glass were still charged with 11 counts of attempted murder each. During their trial, the witnesses changed their statement but there were no other witnesses called on their behalf. The two young men were offered a plea deal of 15 years in prison but they maintained their innocence throughout.
On October 2004, Juan Rayford Jr., as well as Dupree Glass, was sentenced to 220 years, plus — 11 life terms. The sentence, which put them to prison for the rest of their lives without any chance of parole, seems to have violated the US Constitution’s Eighth Amendment that prohibits extreme sentences that are “grossly disproportionate” to the crime.
Moreover, Rayford and Glass were just some of the youth under the age of 18 who were sentenced to life terms in the US. 85% of it is people of color, according to Human Rights Watch.
Fifteen years since then, Rayford Jr. remains in a San Diego-area prison. His father is still fighting for his freedom, seeking help from several authorities and organizations. The California Supreme Court granted the petition by Innocence Rights of Orange County in December 2016 and they are now waiting for the court hearing.
“Juan isn’t bitter, he isn’t angry,” Rayford Sr. told the Charleston Chronicles. “He prays every day and he does what he’s supposed to do and we are hopeful that the Court will soon hear the case and grant his freedom.”