Brockton to pay millions to woman wrongfully imprisoned for 17 years

Local News

Frances Choy was found guilty of murder and arson after her parents perished in a house fire. Her conviction was vacated in 2020.

Frances Choy, left and Kenneth Choy, right were at their arraignment inside Plymouth Superior Court in 2003. Photo by Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The City of Brockton will pay more than $3 million to a woman who was wrongfully imprisoned for 17 years, beginning when she was a teenager.

Frances Choy was 17 when she was arrested for setting the fire in her Brockton home that killed both her parents in 2003. After a hung jury and a mistrial, Choy was sentenced to life in prison following a third trial in 2011 that saw her convicted of murder and arson.

In 2020, the Plymouth County Superior Court vacated Choy’s convictions, and prosecutors declined to charge her again. Choy and her lawyers asked for compensation in a civil suit filed last year in federal court against the City of Brockton, multiple members of the Massachusetts State Police, and an assistant district attorney.

Leonard Kesten, a lawyer representing the City of Brockton, said they chose to settle with Choy and will pay $3.75 million over three years. 

Complaint: racist emails, falsified evidence

The complaint submitted to federal court says Frances’s nephew Kenneth Choy, who was living with them, set fire to the family’s Belair Street home. His guilt was “overwhelming,” the complaint said. Kenneth, who had a poor relationship with Frances’s parents, had allegedly written out a step-by-step plan to set the fire.

“One of the fascinating, unusual things about this complaint and their allegations are they say that it really was her nephew Kenneth who set the fire and police didn’t focus on him,” Kesten said.

Kenneth, who was 16 at the time of the fire, was tried for murder in Plymouth Superior Court but was acquitted in 2008. The complaint said the prosecutors ignored evidence that Kenneth alone set the fire.

The charges against Frances were overturned in 2020 after new evidence found there was actually no gasoline found on her clothes and police misrepresented evidence. Racist emails sent between prosecutors in the case also contributed to Frances’s freedom, the complaint said.

Attached to the complaint was an image where a prosecutor had cut and pasted an image of Frances next to a picture of a burning building. She also said, “I will show up tomorrow wearing a cheongsam and will be the one doing origami in the back of the court room.”

Kesten said Brockton settled “based on the financial exposure.” If the case went to trial, he said people who were wrongfully convicted could be awarded anywhere from $1 to $2 million for each year they were imprisoned. 

Frances’s lawyers did not return a request for comment.

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