The future was looking pretty grim after Cristopher Precopia was arrested at his job on Sept. 22, 2017, at a lumber yard in Georgetown, Texas. He was facing criminal charges that could have landed him in prison for the rest of his life.
The charges came out of nowhere, and Precopia couldn’t understand what was happening, he told KVUE-TV. His life became a living nightmare.
"I was going to sleep hoping I wouldn't wake up," he told the TV station. "Just to trying to get away from it."
At the time, he had no idea that a selfie would end up proving his innocence.
How did this happen?
As it turned out, a former girlfriend from high school told police he broke into her Temple, Texas, home and on Sept. 20. 2017, and used a box cutter to slice an “X” into her chest. Precopia told KVUE he dated the woman about three years earlier, but he couldn’t recall the last time they had contact.
Based on her report to police, Precopia was charged with burglary of a habitation with the intent to commit other crimes, a felony that could have landed him in prison for up to 99 years.
"I had no idea why everything was happening, and I was lost," he recalled.
After he was arrested, Precopia was taken to the Williamson County Jail, and his parents posted a $150,000 bond.
His mom, Erin, knew her son couldn’t have committed the crime. The reason is that she was with him at a Northwest Austin hotel – about 65 miles from the accuser’s home – on the night his accuser said it happened.
"I'm thinking, 'This is awesome. By the grace of God, she said it happened on the day when I can say totally, 100 percent, where he was at,' " Erin Precopia told KVUE.
Fortunately, selfies and other cellphone pictures they took were posted to Facebook and were stamped with the time and location. Other people who were at the gathering signed sworn affidavits stating that her son was there.
His attorney, Rick Flores, was confident he could prove his client wasn’t there.
"Most of the time, we deal with gray matters.” Flores said. "It's not normally black or white. But this is one of those cases where I could definitely prove he did not commit this offense."
Flores told the TV station it was fortunate the woman did not pick any other day, or it would have simply been his word against hers.
Other questions turned to how something like this could happen. How could such a serious charge be brought by another person’s word without a thorough, air-tight investigation?
Police experts told the TV station that it’s common practice for investigators to interview a suspect before charges are filed. Records showed that Precopia tried to return a phone call from Temple Police before he was arrested.
"You may not get any more information than you had, but it gives you an opportunity for the suspect to react, respond, deny," Bruce Mills, a former Austin assistant police chief and policing consultant, told the TV station. "Certainly a case where the suspect appeared to be available, it would be more step you could take."
How was this resolved?
Nine months after the ordeal began, Flores took the evidence to Bell County prosecutors, who dropped the charge "in the interest of justice."
Temple Police reportedly declined to talk about how they handled the case.
Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza said: "We are always willing to listen and examine new information, and that's exactly what we did in this case."
Precopia's accuser reportedly told police they had a troubled relationship several years earlier in high school. She also gave them a reason that she reported that he assaulted her. Since she was not charged with a crime, the TV station decided to not publish her name.
One year later, Precopia is able to finally put the matter behind him.
"I'm ready to actually live my life, the way I want to, without having any kind of worry that this can come back and hurt me," he said.