Emotional reunion for father and son after Governor Cuomo commutes prison sentence

Josh Einiger Image
Friday, January 27, 2017
Exclusive: Emotional reunion for father and son after governor commutes prison sentence
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Josh Einiger has the exclusive story.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- There was an emotional reunion Thursday night between father and son and it was 27 years in the making.

The boy was a toddler when his dad was sent to prison for murder after uncorroborated testimony by a police informant.

Now Felipe Rodriguez Sr. received a commutation from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo after he became a symbol for model prisoners.

"New York City. Unbelievable," Felipe Rodriguez, Sr. said.

They're his first breaths of fresh air, his first real contact with his now 30 year old son.

Felipe Rodriguez is a free man after 27 years.

"Sigh. Every, every thought, I just wanted my son to be safe," Felipe Sr. said. "I think I survived because I wanted him to see this day."

"It's hard man, it's hard. But he's the reason. If it wasn't for him, I don't know where I'd be," Felipe Jr. said.

Felipe Jr. was just three when his dad went away for a murder he insists he didn't commit.

Nearly three decades later, Rodriguez walked out of prison Thursday morning.

His sentence was commuted by Governor Cuomo amid growing doubts about his guilt.

"I could have gotten him off if I tried the case," said Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma, attorney.

Margulis-Ohnuma worked with the innocence project to petition the governor for clemency.

The model prisoner got his reprieve after a decades-long tour of the state prison system.

"He redid the plumbing at one place. He built a greenhouse at another place. He built the rectory at another. He did these incredible murals on the walls," Margulis-Ohnuma said.

He also became a Eucharistic minister looking after fellow inmates.

He had an audience with Timothy Cardinal Dolan.

Felipe Sr. says it was his son who kept him alive, and he returned the favor through hundreds of letters, raising his son from his cell.

"If I showed you every card that I have, every single one, it's teaching something," Felipe Jr. said. "Everything from sports to women, to everything."

"I told God that if he kept my son safe and if my son witnessed my coming out that I would take him to church on my first day," Felipe Sr. said.

He kept that promise Thursday as the two wept at the altar of an upstate church.

In that fresh air was a new beginning for a little boy who's now a man, and a father, now free.

"An officer asked me a question last night," Felipe Sr. said. "He said, 'Do you think you're ready for the world?' And I told him, I said, 'That ain't the question. The question is - is the world ready for me?'"

Rodriguez is still technically a convicted murderer, but his lawyer says he should never have been convicted with the evidence presented at trial and he vows to clear his name.