Wrongly-convicted man to get surgeries

January 10, 2009 9:35:24 AM PST
He served six years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. It's the case of Houstonian Ricardo "Ricky" Rachell. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the sexual assault of a child, but just a few weeks ago, Rachell was released, thanks to DNA evidence that proved he did not do it. He's out of prison but not free from ridicule, because Ricky has a severely disfigured face. But that's about to change, thanks to a group of Action 13 Angels stepping forward to give him a shot at real freedom.

Long before he was sent to jail by mistake, Ricky survived a shotgun blast that left him with a badly disfigured face. It's a face that he says scared neighborhood kids. His jaw is shattered and his words are sometimes hard to understand.

"They would want to run," Ricky recalled of neighborhood children.

Ricky and his family believe one of the reasons he was falsely accused of sexually assaulting a child is because neighborhood kids referred to him as a "monster."

Ricky's stepfather Robert Trimmer said, "They called him 'Tricky Ricky', used to harass him. They used to throw rocks at him, too."

But, now a team of Action 13 medical angels has agreed to fix Ricky's face so he'll never be ridiculed again. The team will be lead by Marvin Zindler's longtime angel, plastic surgeon Dr. Joe Agris.

"The shotgun blast passed through his mouth and cheek. In so doing it left a big opening in his palate no different than in cleft lip children," Dr. Agris explained. "It's very similar to the children that Marvin and you and I have taken care of around the world."

Ricky will have to undergo several surgeries at the Methodist Hospital. Whatever costs aren't covered will be picked up by the Agris-Zindler Foundation. It's going to be a long process and will take a team of surgeons -- all experts in their fields -- Dr. Jeffrey Friedman, Dr. Norman Rappaport and Dr. Larry Hollier.

"It means a great deal to be able to help somebody that has such a severe problem," explained Dr. Hollier.

Dr. Agris said, "I'm going to tell you right now, from my experience this is not a onetime operation."

To do this, the doctors are going to have to take bone from Ricky's leg, hip or rib to rebuild his upper lip, cheek bone and area under his eye. It will probably take three surgeries over two years.

He'll never get back the six years he spent behind bars, but by the time Ricky walks away from this process he should have his face back, confidence to get a job and hope to lead a life of freedom.

"That's what I'm looking forward to -- having a normal face," he said. "I'm excited!"

We'll keep you posted on Ricky's progress.

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