Paying for Your Father's Crime
By David DiCicco
The 700 Club
“They handed me a life sentence – never getting out of prison.”
Shock reverberated through twenty-nine year old Adam Riojas. He was just convicted of a murder he didn’t commit. “I went from paradise to hell. (It was)
pretty tough growing up without a dad. (He) left when I was ten, abusive like crazy, right. My driving force is I want to be better than my father.”
For Adam, that meant pursuing wealth and success. By his mid-twenties, Adam achieved his goal – becoming a successful realtor in Hawaii, earning a thousand dollars a day. “I thought I was indestructible. I literally thought I would be the richest man alive.”
But a weekend trip back to his hometown near San Diego changed his perfect life forever. “December 8, 1989, somebody I knew shows up to my place, wants to borrow the car and said, ‘I’ll be back in a couple of hours.’ (He) comes back around four. Gives me the key. Gives me the car, ‘See ya. Thank you.’”
Adam thought nothing of it. But after returning to Hawaii, police officers arrested him. “He’s telling me I’m being charged with murder. For a murder that happened in Los Angeles County. I go, ‘I’m not even from Los Angeles. What are you talking about? I haven’t been to Los Angeles. What are you talking about?’”
Adam was told eyewitnesses recalled seeing his car, and a man matching his description, at the scene of the crime. He was extradited back to Los Angeles to face the charges. Adam’s attorney believed there would be no problem proving his innocence. “He says, ‘Nobody picked you out of lineups. Nobody picked you out of pictures. I’ll get you out in a week.’”
But one week turned into nearly a year. “I felt hopeless. I felt alone. I felt betrayed by our system. (I felt) stripped of everything.”
“There are people in there that get arrested, that tell you, ‘Hey Jesus loves you.’ I’m like, ‘The heck. You’re like me. You’re in jail, and you’re telling me that? I don’t want to hear that. He doesn’t love me. How can this be love?’”
But when Adam attended a prison church service, he found the hope he’d lost. “The only thing I heard is, ‘If you’re tired and alone and empty, and have no hope, you need Jesus.’”
“The moment that I believed He was God that He was my Redeemer, my Creator, my Best Friend, my Savior, is when everything changed. I had this incredible, incredible peace, incredible joy that I never have felt in my life.”
Meanwhile, prosecutors had produced witnesses placing Adam at the scene of the crime. Adam maintained his innocence despite his attorney’s advice to strike a deal. “Go to trial. Get convicted. Go to prison. They handed me a life sentence. (I’m) never getting out of prison.”
“The first thing that resonated in my mind was this, cause I walked by complete faith in this; ‘Again rejoice in the Lord, again I say rejoice in the Lord,’ in Thessalonians. ‘In everything give God thanks.’ I’m thinking, ‘Thank You God for this? Never! Thank You God for this? Never!’ The worst fight of my entire life in my head happening just wrestling and going back and forth with God and then all of a sudden saying, ‘Okay God, I surrender. Okay God, if this is my life, then it’s Yours.’”
“It’s almost like He spoke to me and said, ‘I have a plan for your life.’ What could He possibly have for me in prison?”
Adam was moved to a maximum-security prison to serve his sentence. “About a month after being there the chaplain approaches me. He says, ‘God has a plan for your life.’ And I just kind of look at him he says, ‘He wants you to be the inmate pastor here, and I’m going to ordain you.’ I prayed about it. He ordained me and made me an inmate pastor.”
Adam dedicated his life behind bars to reaching others. As he saw fellow inmates’ lives changed, he believed for his own miracle. “I knew He was going to release me. I knew that He was a just God, and that He had a plan for my life without a doubt.”
Twelve years into his sentence, Adam receives a call. His father is in a coma, and dying. But before he dies… “He wakes up out of his coma and yells out, ‘I’m guilty. My son should not be in prison. I did the crime.’ After he makes his confession my mother hires a private investigator.”
The man who borrowed Adam’s car the day of the murder picked up his father in Los Angeles County, without Adam’s knowledge. Both men were involved in the crime. After a lengthy investigation he submitted the case to the board of prison terms. The board reviewed his findings and declared Adam not guilty. After serving thirteen years and eight months behind bars, Adam was finally a free man. “It was an incredible feeling.”
But there was still one thing Adam needed to do. “I never had enough time to process that my father had committed this crime. It wasn’t until I was doing an interview that the reporter says, ‘Have you forgiven your father?’ Oh man I lost it.”
“I’m driving home and I’m thinking. ‘Whoa, I have to forgive this man. This man betrayed everything that’s called a father, everything that’s called a man, human, he’s betrayed all of that.’ Boy I wrestled that night, almost like wrestling with God, because I had to forgive him, and I did.”
Adam is a husband and father now and serves as a pastor in his hometown of Oceanside, California. “He allowed this tragedy I went through to just draw me close to Him, to trust Him in everything, my entire life, my entire being.”
“I see that He had a plan not to hurt me, but to prosper me, to love me, to nourish me. We just have to trust Him. Even when it seems impossible to get through something, it’s right there when God is saying, ‘I have you. You’re Mine.’”
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