A Corpus Christi man who spent the last nine years of his life in prison after being convicted of having sex with a minor is a free man Thursday night.
Brandon Coronado was 17 at the time, and about to graduate from King High School. The victim was only 13, but she told Coronado she was 16.
Coronado was sentenced to 10 years probation, but violated that probation a few times after testing positive for marijuana use. Back then, District Judge Manuel Banales warned him that, if he violated probation again, he would be sent to prison for 60 years.
According to the state's Court of Criminal Appeals, the judge's warning violated Coronado's due process by predetermining his sentence, thus violating the defendant's constitutional rights.
"Going to sleep every night with a 60-year sentence over your head is terrifying," Coronado said. "It makes you not want to live anymore."
Coronado now shares a home with his mother and two sisters. He described the past nine years as life wasted. The day he was sentenced still shocks him.
"I just couldn't believe it," he said. "60 years? I just couldn't believe it. I mean there's murderers getting 15 and 20 years!"
His mother never lost faith that somehow, some way, a miracle would happen and her son would be set free.
The family's tragedies didn't end with Coronado's 60-year sentence. In January of 2010, his sister Erica, a vibrant, young aspiring model who was on her way to being successful, suffered a life threatening injury after falling down a flight of stairs. Doctors gave her only a 5-percent chance of survival after surgery.
"If it's God's will for her to go on that table, then I know where she'll be at and I know I'll see her again," Coronado's mother said. "But until then, you go in there and you do this surgery. And they did, and she made it."
It was Erica's tragedy, the family said, that brought the truth out about what happened the night Brandon was accused of the criminal act, and a desire from the victim's family to help right the wrong.
Today, back in the 105th District Court now presided over by Judge Angelica Hernandez, Coronado's life took a dramatic turn.
"So at this time, the court is going to choose to terminate you from probation, although unsatisfactory, I'm going to order that you not be convicted of the underlying offense," Hernandez told Coronado. "You will remain free of any felony convictions, and the court is going to find that you have served time to adequately serve the ends of justice. You are free to go at this time."
Coronado was placed on bail Friday. On Monday he found a job, and as of Thursday he is a free man with a clean slate and a future yet to be written.
"It's just like a dream come true. It is just a blessing," Coronado said. "It's a blessing all around. I'm just glad that justice was finally served, and I can spend the rest of my life with my family."
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