Stories of Wrongful Conviction from California


More than 200 men and women have been wrongfully convicted of serious crimes in California, six of whom were sentenced to death.  Here are some of their stories.


Herman Atkins

County: Riverside
Convicted of: Forcible Rape, Forcible Oral Copulation, and Robbery
Year of Conviction: 1988
Sentence: 45 years
Year Released: 2000
Years Served: 11.5 years
Wrongful Conviction Factors: Mistaken eyewitness identification

Herman Atkins, a tall and poised man, is a blissful newlywed and pursuing a masters and doctoral degree in Psychology from California State University, Fresno. The son of a California Highway Patrol Officer, Herman has traveled the country and starred in an acclaimed documentary. By looking at him, you would never know that twelve years of Herman's life was stolen by the State of California. His adolescence cheated by the error of the criminal justice system, and only to be resolved over a decade later.

In 1986, Herman was a recent high school graduate, preparing to follow his admired father's footstep and join the military. A twisted set of events, however, prevented him from even experiencing his twenties.

Herman, now 40, was accused of raping a woman during a 1986 robbery in a Lake Elsinore shoe store. In 1988, the jury convicted him to forty-five years in prison. DNA testing was not available during his trial; however, in 1993, the Innocence project requested that the evidence be tested. The results were not surprising - the source of semen on the victim's sweater eliminated Herman as the source. The FBI lab confirmed these results.

Herman, the 70th person in North America freed from prison as a result of DNA testing, was release on February 18th, 2000, after serving almost 12 years for a crime he did not commit. The rapist was never caught.

"Only God and I knew my innocence," Herman tearfully stated on the day of his release. "Today, God, I, the Riverside District Attorney and the people of California and the United States know that I am an innocent man."

Herman currently lives in Fresno with his wife Machara. They have set up a small foundation, LIFE, to assist other recent exonerees with the basic necessities once they are released from prison. In addition to time, Herman laments on the opportunities robbed from him during those twelve years, "It robbed me of a relationship with my father, a relationship with my grandmother. It robbed me of any opportunity in life."     





Kevin Baruxes
County: San Diego
Convicted of: Rape
Year of Conviction: 1996
Sentence: 15 years to life
Year Released: 2003
Years Served: 7.5 years
Wrongful Conviction Factors: False testimony by witness

Cortni Mahaffy came to the police and said three men, one of whom had a skinhead tattoo, had raped her. She said that it had happened in the trash enclosure outside her apartment building, that a knife had been pulled and that the attacker had a chain wallet.

Everything that she said pointed to 18 year-old Kevin Baruxes, a local skinhead who lived at home and had frequent run-ins with the police. He had the tattoo she had described and when he was picked up, he had a knife and a chain wallet in his pockets. He had spoken to her a few times while visiting friends who lived in the building. Mahaffy testified that Kevin had shared his views about race. "He told me that he liked me as a person, but when the race war came, he would have to kill me" because, as a Sicilian, she was not "pure white."  

It took police only a week to pick up Baruxes. Mahaffy identified him and his brother as her attackers (she later dropped the identification of his brother). Despite the fact that his family swore he had been at home and there was no physical evidence of the crime, Baruxes was convicted based on her convincing testimony and eyewitness identification. Further, because of the racist element of the crime, he was given an aggravated sentence for committing a hate crime. "You gotta be kidding," Kevin said. "This is like the kind of stuff I see on TV where someone gets blamed for a crime that they haven't even done." 

Years later, an email sent by Mahaffy's ex-fiancee, Mike Chaney, started the momentum that led to Baruxes release. He wrote that he believed she had falsely accused Baruxes. Several more witnesses came forward testifying that she was a compulsive liar and in the end, she recanted her testimony against him. Baruxes was released in 2003 after spending more than seven years in prison for a crime that he not only did not commit, but one that seems highly plausible to never have even occurred.

Kevin Baruxes is now readjusting to life on the outside. He carries the judge's order of his exoneration in his back pocket. He is 26 years old and he bears two scars from a prison knife attack that almost killed him. Recently, Baruxes was awarded $265,000 ($100/day) for wrongful imprisonment.     





Arvind Balu Arvind Balu
County: Lake
Convicted of: Gang Rape
Year of Conviction: 1997
Sentence: 20 years
Year Released: 2005
Years Served: 8 years
Wrongful Conviction Factors: False Testimony, Inadequate Representation, Prosecutorial Misconduct

On May 16, 1997, a twenty one year old college student named Arvind Balu was arrested and charged with five serious felonies after a teenager reported that he had tied her up, raped her at knife point, cut her with the knife, and then licked her blood. This assault was supposed to have occurred approximately nine months earlier at the Konocti Harbor Resort.

Given what is known now, it seems remarkable that criminal charges were ever brought as a result of these allegations. What has come to light are a remarkable number of circumstances that plainly establish that these charges were false including the implausible and inconsistent accounts given by the alleged victim to police and others; her unexplained failure to say a word about them to anyone for more than nine months; her immediate destruction of the pages in her diary relating to her trip once her rape accusation was reported to the authorities, and much other information found post-trial casts doubt upon her credibility; she claimed she had done this out of rage because her school counselor had found the diary and questioned her, initiating the case; however the two school counselors testified that she initiated the complaint and they never saw a diary, eliminating her excuse for destroying the evidence.  Also, a classmate later declared that she admitted to making the whole story up; that she met cute guys on her trip, wanted to have sex, but was refused. This witness and another close female classmate also declared that the accuser had no cuts on her legs after her trip. In addition, there was absolutely no physical evidence implicating Balu.

Arvind’s trial attorney was grossly incompetent and failed to fully investigate the case. The fact that Arvind had been in trouble with the law as a juvenile for minor infractions, and that he was bi-polar, may have been used against him during the police investigation.

Arvind recalls, “I went into shock when they told me I was facing 60 years in prison.”

Once convicted, Arvind spent eight brutal years behind bars. He painfully remembers, “I was held in solitary for three years, much without sunlight. I was beaten and tortured, even electrocuted (by guards); I slashed my own wrists. One day, under my
bunk in a pile of unread newspapers, I found an article about myself and my  co-defendant. It said the Court was going to reverse some convictions. It was a four month lockdown at Salinas; and had I not seen this article I would have taken my life. My head hurt from not walking for so long. It felt like it would explode. Because of the type of case, they (prison) condone your death. This happened in California while the lawyers were sipping wine and the dot.com generation was out dancing. No one did a thing, unless paid; this despite all the news publicity. I wrote every petition myself. California owes me as a whole for this atrocity.”

Arvind’s co-defendant Brendan Loftus, who was white, was also wrongfully convicted. However, he received a considerably lesser sentence of 5 years. He was completely cleared by the First District Court of Appeal within two years of his conviction.

After being released, Arvind continues to struggle, “I returned to Cal-Berkeley for a couple of years, only to face discrimination. I have begun my own activist project; my goal is to create electronic tools to free people from oppression and expand the Innocence Project.”




Arthur Carmona
County: Orange
Convicted of: Armed Robbery (2 counts)
Year of Conviction: 1998
Sentence: 12 years
Year Released: 2000
Years Served: 2 years
Wrongful Conviction Factors: Mistaken eyewitness identification; police misconduct

Read our statement about Arthur's tragic murder on February 17, 2008
In 1998, Arthur Carmona, a 16 year old student at Costa Mesa High School, believed in the criminal justice system. Arthur was living in southern California, enjoying school and being with his friends. The events that occurred on February 12th of that year, however, dissolved Arthur's youth, snatching with it the hope of this young man.

"There are pictures of graduation," says Arthur, of his high school class, "but it means nothing to me."

On February 12th, 1998, two robberies occurred: at a Juice Bar in Irvine and at a Costa Mesa Denny's restaurant. A gunman clad in dark clothing and a Los Angeles Lakers cap robbed the two locations and then fled in a truck driven by Shawn Kaiwi. Kaiwi, apprehended that night, told police that a guy got into his car with a gun and told him to drop him off down the freeway. Police arrested Kaiwi and during their search found clothing and the Lakers cap inside the truck.

Two hours after the Irvine robbery, Arthur was walking to a friend's house when he noticed a helicopter circling directly above him. Seconds later, he was stopped at gunpoint by police. Arthur was not wearing dark clothing or a cap, according to the complaint. Witnesses to both robberies were brought to the scene of Arthur's arrest. They could not identify him at first, but when police asked Arthur to put on the cap and a jacket, witnesses made the identification.

Carmona, tried as an adult, was convicted and sentenced to 12 years based largely on the witness statements.

From the beginning, Arthur maintained his innocence. Family members and supporters started a campaign for his release, and began raising money. A Weekly and Los Angeles Times columnist, Dana Parsons began poking holes in the case and eyewitnesses recanted their testimony, including Kaiwi, who eventually admitted he did not know Arthur.

On August 22nd, 2000, an Orange County Superior Court considered the overwhelming evidence that Carmona had been wrongfully convicted of both crimes and ordered his release with the agreement of the DA, but only after a stipulation that he would not sue them or the police.

Arthur was murdered in 2008 while leaving a party with friends.




Clarence Chance and Benny Powell
County: Los Angeles
Convicted of: 1st Degree Murder and Robbery
Year of Conviction: 1975
Sentence: Life without parole
Year Released: 1992
Years Served: 17 years
Wrongful Conviction Factors: Police misconduct; perjured testimony; false informant testimony

On a December night in 1973, Clarence Chance was being held in a county jail. Yet, he was ultimately convicted of robbing a gas station and murdering an off-duty sheriff's deputy in the men's room that same night. Chance and his codefendant, Benny Powell, served 17 years for a crime that they did not and could not have committed.

While in prison, Chance and Powell refused to give up hope and eventually, someone responded to their pleas for help. Jim McCloskey of Centurion Ministries tracked down three witnesses who said that the LAPD had pressured and coerced them into giving their false testimonies. On this discovery, county prosecutors joined the investigation and discovered that police had not revealed the fact that the jailhouse informant who gave key testimony had failed two polygraph tests. After four years of investigation, Los Angeles County District Attorney's office joined defense lawyers in asking that Chance and Powell be freed.

When finally releasing Chance and Powell, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Florence-Marie Cooper gave a judicial apology for the "gross injustice" of the time they spent in prison. "Nothing can be done to return to you the years irretrievably lost," she said. Since their release, each of them has been awarded $3.5 million dollars for their wrongful imprisonment.     




Patrick Croy
County: Placer
Convicted of: 1st Degree Murder
Year of Conviction: 1978
Sentence: Death
Year Released: 1990
Years Served: 10 years
Wrongful Conviction Factors: Erroneous jury instructions; ineffective assistance of counsel


In 1978, Patrick "Hooty" Croy was working as a logger in Yreka. A weekend of partying led to an ill-fated shoot out between police and a group including Croy. By the end, Officer Hittson was dead. Croy was convicted of attempted robbery and Officer Hittson's murder. The jury did not convict Croy of intentionally killing the offer, but, rather, convicted him based on the theory of felony murder -- that is, that he intentionally committed a robbery that resulted in the officer's death. Croy was sentenced to death.

In 1985, Croy's conviction and death sentence were overturned. The California Supreme Court found that the trial judge had read the wrong instructions to the jury, allowing the jury to convict Croy of robbery even if he did not intend to steal. Because the murder conviction was based on the theory that Croy had intentionally committed a robbery that had caused the officer's death, the murder conviction too was reversed.

The case was re-tried and Croy presented evidence that he acted in self-defense during the shoot out. The jury found him not guilty of the crime for which he had previously been sentenced to death. Croy was released in 1990 and today still lives in Yreka.     




Frederick Daye
County: San Diego
Convicted of: Rape, Kidnapping, Grand Theft
Year of Conviction: 1984
Sentence: Life
Year Released: 1994
Years Served: 10 years
Wrongful Conviction Factors: Mistaken eyewitness identification; junk science

Late one evening, two men attacked the victim in this case as she walked to her car. The first assailant pushed her into the car and let another man into the back of the car. The perpetrators stole her jewelry and then raped her, eventually leaving the victim on the street and stealing her car.

The victim identified Daye from a photo lineup. She and a witness then identified him in a live lineup. Additional evidence used at trial was a conventional serology match between Daye's blood type and a semen stain. Daye's defense was mistaken identification. Daye's co-defendant, who was tried separately, refused to testify at Daye's trial.

Then, in 1990, the co-defendant made a statement revealing that Daye was not involved in the crime. A public defender was appointed to investigate the statement. When the public defender failed to investigate, Appellate Defenders, Incorporated, (ADI) took over the case.

ADI stopped the destruction of the physical evidence from his case and filed for an evidentiary hearing. Though the court refused to hear the evidentiary claims, Daye was allotted funds to pursue DNA testing as well as granted a release of the evidence.

Cellmark Diagnostics performed testing in 1994. Testing excluded Daye as the source of sperm found on the victim's pants. Based on the DNA results and the statement of the other defendant, Daye's conviction was overturned in 1994, after he had endured ten years of incarceration.     




Antoine Goff (Pictured) & John Tennison
County: San Francisco
Convicted of: 1 st Degree Murder
Year of Conviction: 1990
Sentence: 27 years to life
Year Released: 2003
Years Served: 13 years
Wrongful Conviction Factors: Police misconduct

In the early morning hours of August 19, 1989, Roderick Shannon was shot and killed following a car chase through the streets of San Francisco. At the time, Shannon's murder was the latest in a series of tragic and senseless killings by young men from the Sunnydale and Hunters Point neighborhoods of the city. The summer of 1989 marked the peek of the conflict, which claimed the lives of 40 people.

Facing mounting pressure to solve the case, the police arrested John Tennison despite the lack of any reliable evidence that he was involved. The only "evidence" linking Tennison, and his co-defendant Antoine Goff, to the crime was the testimony of two young girls. The girls' testimony was inconsistent, lacked crucial details about the car chase and killing itself, and contradicted statements by other witnesses. One of the girls recanted her story, confessing that she did not in fact witness the crime, but the police and the prosecutor bullied her into going back to her original tale. Both Tennison and Goff were convicted and sentenced to 27 years to life.    

After nearly 14 years in prison, a federal court granted John Tennison's habeas petition and vacated his conviction. The federal court found that the State had procured Tennison's conviction by suppressing several pieces of exculpatory evidence, including a taped statement to police by another man who confessed to the Shannon murder, a statement from an eyewitness, and a police department memorandum suggesting the key prosecution witness was paid for her testimony.  
Tennison was released from prison on August 29, 2003. Goff was released a short time later. The San Francisco District Attorney stipulated Tennison's innocence and the California Superior Court declared him factually innocent. The State court found that "all evidence in this case -- evidence which the prosecution possessed was in the possession of the prosecution prior to Tennison's trial -- shows that Tennison is innocent of all charges relating to the murder of Roderick Shannon."

Tennison currently works as an investigator for the San Francisco Public Defender and has filed a civil rights suit based on his wrongful conviction and imprisonment. Goff is pursuing a similar claim.     





Thomas Goldstein
County: Long Beach
Convicted of: 1st Degree Murder
Year of Conviction: 1980
Sentence: 27 years to life
Year Released: 2004
Years Served: 24 years
Wrongful Conviction Factors: False testimony by informant; misconduct of prosecutor; eyewitness error

Tom Goldstein is frequently asked, 'how did you survive 24 years in prison for a crime you didn't commit?' The answer, he says, lies in his daily meditation practice and his Jewish faith which gave him strength and carried him through.

In 1980, Tom was a Vietnam War veteran living in a garage in a Long Beach, California, and attending college. One night, a man was shot dead on the street near where he lived, and soon the police zeroed in on Goldstein. Before he knew it, Tom was convicted for the murder sentenced to 27 years to life.

The crucial witness against Goldstein was Edward Fink, a notorious jailhouse informant who testified that Goldstein confessed the murder to him in jail. Fink was also the key prosecution witness in the 1984 murder trial of Thommy Thompson in Orange County. Thompson was sentenced to death as a result of Fink's testimony and was executed on July 14, 1998. Just prior to the execution, the Ninth Circuit expressed concern about whether Thompson was guilty and decided to review the case further. But, because of a clerk's error, the decision came too late.
Thompson was executed. Goldstein heard about the case and, acting as his own lawyer, he obtained records about Edward Fink from Thompson's attorney. On his own, Goldstein field a habeas petition in federal court. The court ordered a rare evidentiary hearing and appointed Goldstein an attorney, Sean Kennedy. Kennedy contacted the sole eye witness who then recanted. In 2004,  the court reversed the conviction and ordered him released. Even then, however, his ordeal was not over, for a prosecutor kept him in custody for another four months before he was really free.

When he was first released, Tom had no where to go. His attorneys bought him his first meal as a free man, helped him find a place to live and put him to work. Today, Tom lives in Southern California, working as a paralegal. He and his attorney, Sean Kennedy, now the Chief Federal Public Defender in LA, are still close.





Ernest (Shujaa) Graham
County: Santa Clara
Convicted of: 1st Degree Murder 
Year of Conviction: 1976
Sentence: Death
Year Released: 1981
Years Served: 8 years
Wrongful Conviction Factor: Police misconduct; prosecutorial misconduct

As he says, "wounded by the blows of capital punishment but not slain," Ernest "Shujaa" Graham walked off death row in 1981, after serving eight years for a murder he did not commit.

Shujaa was born and raised in a small town called Lake Providence, Louisiana. He and his family were share-croppers. "My only goal was to get out of the fields, to be a tractor driver, so I wouldn't have to work so hard."

At eight years old, his mother moved to Los Angeles and just couldn't afford to bring Shujaa. His grandmother, "who he owes so much to," raised him for the next few years. At 12, he joined his mother in South-Central Los Angeles but the culture shock was difficult for him to bear. Shujaa lived through the Watts riot and experienced the police occupation of his community. He was in and out of juvenile hall. "In 1969," he said, "I was convicted of a $35 robbery and sent to prison." He was just 18 years old.

But in prison, "those who we despise the most took me under their wing," he said. Shujaa learned to read and write; he studied history and world affairs, and became a leader of the Black Panther Party within the California prison system.

In November 1973, Shujaa was wrongfully convicted of the murder of a prison guard and sentenced to death. "Every day was hard on death row" he said. He was beaten, and often nearly lost hope, drawing strength from the other men on the row who told him to hold on.

Watching television one day, he learned that his conviction had been overturned because prosecutors had removed all African-Americans from the jury. He was tried twice more before he was finally acquitted of all charges, and became a free man in 1981.

"I've been out 20 some years now and every day when I get up I think about capital punishment, and not only what happened to me but also those I left behind."

Shujaa and his wife have raised three children and now have a landscaping business in Maryland. But Shujaa's life work is ending the death penalty.





Kevin Green
County: Orange
Convicted of: 2nd Degree Murder, Attempted Murder, Assault with a Deadly Weapon
Year of Conviction: 1980
Sentence: 15 years to life
Year Released: 1996
Years Served: 16 years
Wrongful Conviction Factors: Mistaken eyewitness identification

On September 30, 1979, Dianna Green was struck and severely injured while in her apartment. She received a blow to the middle of her forehead and, as a result, she suffered the loss of her ability to speak or otherwise communicate. At the time of the attack, Dianna Green was pregnant. The baby was still-born.

Kevin Lee Green, Dianna's husband, said he was not home at the time of the event. He testified that he left the apartment, went to a hamburger stand for food, and when he returned found his wife had been attacked. Police confirmed his presence at the hamburger stand with a counter-girl and the food in his possession was warm. Still, he was arrested and convicted after his wife, whose injury had caused extensive brain damage and amnesia, testified against him. No evidence corroborated Dianna's testimony. The judge sentenced Green to 15 years to life.

During the investigation it was learned that vaginal slides taken from Dianna Green showed the presence of sperm. A DNA profile from the sperm was eventually found to match another felon, who confessed to the attack as well as five other murders. Based on this DNA database hit and the confession, Green was exonerated and released after spending sixteen years in prison.     




Harold Hall
County: Los Angeles
Convicted of: 1st Degree Murder (2 counts)
Year of Conviction: 1990
Sentence: Life without Parole
Year Released: 2004
Years Served: 19 years
Wrongful Conviction Factor: Coerced confession; police and prosecutorial misconduct; false testimony by informant

In 1985, after seventeen hours of excruciating interrogation Harold Hall confessed to a double murder he did not commit. He was just 18 year-olds at the time, a high school dropout living with his mother in South Los Angeles. "At a certain point," he said "I knew I just had to tell the police what they wanted to hear or it wouldn't end." He was quickly convicted, and the prosecution asked the jury to sentence him to death. But after Hall took the stand to declare his innocence, the jury chose life without parole.

For the next 19 years while he was in prison, Hall refused to let his family visit him. He couldn't bear being connected to the outside world in anyway.

Instead, Hall worked diligently on his case - researching, filing motions, and petitioning people for their help. He had a job in the law library and earned his GED. For years, he requested DNA testing of the physical evidence from the case. For years he was denied.

In 2003, Hall was granted a new trial by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which found both the confession and the testimony of a jailhouse informant unreliable. After the convictions were reversed, the DNA evidence was finally tested, proving that Hall as innocent. Charges were dismissed and Hall was freed.

"I was released in 2004 without anything," said Hall. "After 19 years I found myself walking down the street in downtown Los Angeles."

If it were not for Harold Hall's incredible perseverance in the face of many disappointments he would still be in prison. He knew justice would come. As he says, "It was just a matter of time."

Hall now works for the Indigent Criminal Defense Appointment Program of the Los Angeles County State Bar. He wants to enjoy a normal life, take nothing for granted, and perhaps pursue a degree in computer sciences. "What they took from me, I can't get back," he said. "The thing is to move forward, to enjoy what I have now."





Bobby Herrera
County: Santa Clara
Convicted of: Assault with a deadly weapon
Year of Conviction:  1997
Sentence:  5 years
Year Released: 1998
Years Served: 11 months
Wrongful Conviction Factor:  Eyewitness error, inadequate legal representation

In 1997, shots were fired near the graduation party of two San Jose girls. Bobby Herrera, an auto mechanic who was dating one of the graduates, was identified as the shooter by two people. The shooting was believed to be gang-related. Even though Herrera had no gang affiliation or prior arrests, he was arrested a few weeks after the incident. 

Herrera's mother, Zenaida, hired defense attorney John Pyle, who never interviewed witnesses who would have testified that Herrera was not the shooter.  Pyle advised Herrera to plead guilty, as he would likely get probation; whereas, if he were convicted at trial, he could receive up to 25 years. Pyle emphasized that going to trial would cost an additional $6000 in legal fees. Herrera, not wanting to be an additional financial burden to his parents, pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon.

He was sentenced to five years in prison, not probation, in part because he did not show remorse. Later, he asked, "How can you have remorse for something you did not do?"

On the day of his sentencing, one of the two eyewitnesses recanted; however Pyle failed to interview her. The family retained two additional attorneys, at the cost of $18,000, who accomplished little. Finally, a third attorney secured an order by the Supreme Court for a new hearing, upon which the district attorney's office dropped all charges against Herrera. After 11 months in prison, he was released. 

The family later discovered that Pyle had been repeatedly suspended from the practice of law, most recently for failure to pay his bar dues. In fact, Pyle had no standing to represent Herrera at the time of the trial. In 2003, John Pyle was disbarred.      




Albert Johnson
County: Contra Costa
Convicted of: Rape (2 counts)
Year of Conviction: 1993
Sentence: 24 years
Year Released: 2003
Years Served: 10 years
Wrongful Conviction Factors: Mistaken eyewitness identification; police misconduct; poor defense

On an evening in February 1992, a young woman was raped by a black man driving a small, white car. Later that evening, Albert Johnson, who was driving a similar car, was pulled over for speeding and detained while the police brought the woman to the scene for a one-on-one "show up" where she identified Johnson.

On the basis of the first ID, Johnson became the suspect in a second, earlier rape of a woman at a nearby high school track. A detective administered a highly suggestive photo line-up to the second victim who, despite voicing concerns that Johnson had lighter skin than her assailant, picked him out of the line-up. At separate trials, Johnson was convicted of both of these offenses and sentenced to 15   years imprisonment on the first offense and a consecutive 24 years on the second.

Johnson insisted from the moment of his arrest that he was innocent of both offenses and requested DNA testing. Neither his trial attorney nor the prosecution sought DNA testing, though rape kits had been obtained on both cases. In 2001, he filed a motion for DNA testing of the evidence on both of the cases. In October 2002, test results revealed that Johnson could not have been the perpetrator of the second assault, but the evidence in the first case had been destroyed. As a result, the first conviction was reversed. Johnson was then released from prison because he had served sufficient time to satisfy the sentence on the second offense. 

Johnson maintains his innocence in the first case, but without the evidence to test, cannot prove it. The DNA from the case in which Johnson was exonerated was compared with the profiles in the convicted felon database and was identified, but the person cannot be prosecuted and remains free because the statute of limitations has run out.     




Gloria Killian
County: Sacramento
Convicted of: 1st Degree Murder
Year of Conviction: 1986
Sentence: 32 years to life
Year Released: 2002
Years Served: 18 years
Wrongful Conviction Factors: False testimony of informant; misconduct by prosecutor

Gloria Killian is an aspiring attorney, a member of the steering committee of the San Francisco-based non-profit, Free Battered Women, and the founder and executive director of a non-profit, Action Committee for Women in Prison in Los Angeles, which helps women in prison who are serving life or housed on death row. Gloria's interest in the issue of women in prison stems from her own experience as a woman once incarcerated, wrongfully so, in California.

Gloria, while on break from her classes at McGeorge Law School, was convicted of robbery-murder. In this horrific twist of her life course, Gloria was sentenced to 32 years to Life in prison, only narrowly escaping the hands of a death sentence, as a Supreme Court decision made her ineligible for the death penalty - that decision has since been overturned.

"They destroyed my entire life," said Gloria. "They took everything I had and they smashed it into a million pieces just because they could."

The crucial piece of evidence against Gloria was the testimony of Gary Masse, already serving a life sentence for a 1981 robbery-murder. Masse contacted the Sacramento Sheriff's office in 1986 "to see if any deals could be struck" and in exchange for a reduced sentence, he testified that Gloria had planned and helped execute the robbery and murder - lying under oath that he did not have a leniency deal with the prosecution.

Several years later, an attorney for one of Masse's co-defendants discovered Masses' letters to the prosecutor that explained his lies, which led to Gloria's conviction. Gloria, however, had no money to hire a lawyer and no court-appointed attorney; without either, her knowledge of the letter was hopeless.

Her saving grace was Joyce Ride, mother of Sally Ride, who took an interest in Gloria's case and personally financed a new investigation. This investigation led to a hearing in 2000 in which Masse revealed his perjury and arrangement with the prosecution. The groundwork was now laid for Gloria's successful appeal to the 9th Circuit, which resulted in her being set free in 2002 after 18 years behind bars.

"When you hear about cases like ours, demand some accountability," said Gloria. "Because if can happen to us, it's happening to other people, and it can happen to you, too."      




Jason Kindle
County: Los Angeles
Convicted of: Armed Robbery
Year of Conviction: 2000
Sentence: 70 years to life
Year Released: 2003
Years Served: 2 years
Wrongful Conviction Factors: Junk science; ineffective assistance of counsel

On one early morning in 1999, a man approached the front doors of a Los Angeles Office Depot as it was opening. The man produced a gun, rounded up the employees, and demanded cash. Jason Kindle, who at the time worked at the Office Depot, was accused of the armed robbery and convicted mainly because of a laundry list of store cleaning instructions found in his home. Police and the district attorney believed it was a robbery "to-do" list, when in fact the list contained notes Kindle took during a training course with Cover-All Cleaning, his employer. Kindle's supervisor testified that the list did indeed result from the training course. Kindle's conviction was also based on inaccurate voice recognition testimony. He was sentenced under the "three strikes" law to 70 years to life.

Kindle's conviction was reversed due to the failure of the defense to call an expert on identifications. The California Innocence Project, along with a local Los Angeles attorney, presented evidence to the trial court of a videotape of the robbery that definitively proved that the actual perpetrator was 6 feet 6 inches tall. Kindle is only 6 feet tall, six inches shorter than the person seen on the videotape. The charges against Kindle were dismissed and Kindle was released.     




Kenneth Marsh
County: San Diego
Convicted of: 2nd Degree Murder
Year of Conviction: 1983
Sentence: 15 years to life
Year Released: 2004
Years Served: 21 years
Wrongful Conviction Factors: Junk science

Ken Marsh and Brenda Buell were enjoying the happiest moments of their life in 1983 in San Diego County. Ken, a man of slim stature and a warm smile, was a 28 year old man, busy splitting his time working as a supervisor at the local Coca-Cola plant and running his house-painting business. Brenda worked in as an assistant manager at a local wholesale florist. Living together, the best friends were raising Brenda's two very young children, Jessica and Phillip Buell.

Twenty-three years later, Ken and Brenda are now married but the stories that fill the last two decades of each of their lives are very different. Ken, now 51, is a man with separation anxiety and heartbreaking eyes, who finds behind him twenty-one years of his dignity, shredded and stolen by the California's criminal justice system.

In 1983, Ken was babysitting Brenda's two children, when Phillip, 33-months old, fell from the couch and hit his head on a brick hearth. Ken called the paramedics, who transported Phillip to Children's Hospital. Phillip died that evening. The doctors had noted the incident as child abuse, though the injury was treated as an accidental fall by the San Diego Police Department. Ken was taken into custody, and later charged and convicted of the second degree murder of Phillip Buell.

Brenda never lost hope in Ken and struggled for the next 21 years to free the innocent man she loved. They were not allowed to see each other during the two decades Ken spent in prison but maintained their relationship through covert letters.

"What happened to us in 1983," says a tearful Marsh, "They ripped us apart."
After eighteen years of imprisonment, the pieces of Ken's wrongful conviction began to come together. Brenda found a dispatcher who had recorded the discussion in the ambulance transport to Children's Hospital. The transport was initially labeled as uneventful; however, the treatment Philip, a baby with a blood disorder, was given actually acerbated his brain swelling, causing cardiac arrest. He had died before he even arrived at Children's. The California Innocence Project, along with a local San Diego attorney, sought a new trial after uncovering additional forensic evidence that proved Ken's innocence. In 2004, the district attorney's office dismissed the charges and Ken was a free man.      




Dewayne McKinney
County: Orange
Convicted of: 1st Degree Murder and Robbery
Year of Conviction: 1981
Sentence: Life
Year Released: 2000
Years Served: 19 years
Wrongful Conviction Factors: Mistaken eyewitness identification; police misconduct

On December 11, 1980, a man robbed an Orange County Burger King, stealing over $2,500 and killing the manager of the store. The man disappeared into a car and fled the scene. Four witnesses at the scene identified Dewayne McKinney as the killer. The police had falsely led these witnesses to believe that McKinney had confessed to the crime. In addition, the identifications were made under severe stress, and all of the identifications were cross-racial.

There was no physical evidence linking McKinney to the scene, and multiple witnesses testified that he was at home, some 30 miles from the scene. These same witnesses testified that McKinney was also injured at the time and required the aid of crutches to walk. The prosecution, however, used thinly veiled racist comments to undermine the credibility of each of these witnesses, who were all low-income African Americans.

McKinney had all but given up hope: "I haven't done anything and i'm stuck in a box," he said. Then, in 1997, the Orange County Public Defender received a letter from a prison inmate who claimed to know the identity of the real killer. The Orange County District Attorney's office received a copy of this letter two years later, when defense attorneys filed a brief and affidavits in court. In response, the D.A.'s office ordered an investigation. Through the course of the investigation, they tracked down the getaway driver who admitted his role and stated that McKinney was not involved. Additionally, several of the original witnesses recanted their statements that McKinney was the killer. In 2000, the District Attorney's Office filed a request with the Superior Court asking for McKinney's release, stating that there was not enough evidence to support his conviction. McKinney was given $2 million and prison issued street clothes upon his release.

After spending nineteen years of his life serving time for a crime he did not commit, Dewayne McKinney became a free man. Dewayne was tragically killed in motorcycle accident in 2008.




Melvin Mikes
County: Los Angeles
Convicted of: 1st Degree Murder
Year of Conviction: 1985
Sentence: 25 to life
Year Released: 1991
Years served: 7 years
Wrongful Conviction Factor: Poor defense lawyering

Mikes was convicted of beating to death a fix-it shop owner during a robbery. His counsel failed to present alibi witness. The conviction was vacated due to insufficient evidence. Mikes' release was delayed four months waiting for the District Attorney's unsuccessful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Mikes served seven years of his 25 years to life sentence for a crime he did not commit.     




Glen "Buddy" Nickerson

County: Santa Clara
Convicted of: 1st Degree Murder (2 counts)
Year of Conviction: 1984
Sentence: Life without parole
Year Released: 2003
Years Served: 19 years
Wrongful Conviction Factors: Police misconduct; eye witness error

The story of Glen William "Buddy" Nickerson begins on St. Patrick's Day of 1955, when he was born the oldest son of Glen Sr. and his wife, Doris Jean. Buddy had an older sister, Glenna, and two younger brothers, Richard and Harry, whom everyone called Nicky. Unlike his thin, lanky siblings, Buddy was always chubby.

In the fall of 1984, Buddy, a twenty-something father of two, was looking forward to spending time with his newborn son and beautiful three year old daughter. He never imagined that he would be arrested, charged and convicted to life imprisonment for a crime he did not commit.

On the evening of September 15th, 1984, Buddy was serving as the bartender for a party held at a friend's house. After too many drinks, Buddy kicked off his boots and slept in his truck, bare feet hanging out the passenger window.

That same night, four masked robbers broke into the house of John Evans, a local dealer and acquaintance of Buddy. Soon, Evans and his half brother, Mickie King, were dead and Michael Orosio, a friend, lay in critical condition. The masked men scattered and ran from the scene.

The police brought in three suspects, including the actual shooter Murray Lodge, who owned drug money to Evans. The only surviving victim, Orosio, after a few conversations with investigators from his hospital bed under heavy sedation, identified Buddy as the fourth suspect. He was arrested a few days later.

Several years later, abhorrent police misconduct was revealed: Police had encouraged a witness to alter their eyewitness description; the friends Buddy was with the evening of the murder were threatened by investigators, removing his alibi; and, police hid evidence and committed perjury when they denied, under oath, the existence of a taped confession by another suspect.

"Everybody out here believed, 'Oh, there's no way innocent people would be in prison. It just doesn't happen, this is America,'" said Nickerson. "It happens everyday. Everyday. And one day, it could be you."

Buddy was release in 2003, after the confession of the fourth suspect, William Carl Jahn which led the District Court Judge to find no confidence in Buddy's conviction.
Buddy, now at 45 years old, has spent more than a third of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit. But Buddy says he doesn't want people to feel sorry for him; instead, "they should feel sorry for the justice system."      




Aaron Owens
County: Alameda
Convicted of: 1st Degree Murder (2 counts)
Year of Conviction: 1973
Sentence: Life
Year Released: 1982
Years Served: Almost 10 years
Wrongful Conviction Factors: Mistaken eyewitness identification

One of Aaron Owens' best friends is John Taylor, the man who sent him to prison for two life sentences for a double murder he did not commit.

"Twelve people thought that I was the man who committed the crime and they were wrong." Owens said. John Taylor was the prosecutor who convinced the jury that Owens was guilty. And Taylor is also the man who is responsible for Aaron now being free. "If John were not the kind of man he is, I never would have gotten out of prison. Nobody was going to listen to me. Nobody did. It took a man with a conscience like John to do what he did: see a mistake and rectify it."

Though Aaron's conviction was for a capital offense, it came at a time when California had a moratorium on the death penalty as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Furman v. Georgia. That stroke of luck meant he was sentenced to life instead. "If not for the moratorium, I would have been dead in '76 because that's when they affirmed my conviction," Owens said.

Aaron's conviction was simply a case of mistaken eyewitness identification. Owens said that the pivotal testimony came from a victim who survived and testified "I would never forget the eyes of the man who threatened to kill my little boy." The jury asked to hear that testimony again, and convicted Owens a short time later. But the witness simply made a mistake. Indeed, when Aaron later saw a picture of the true killer, he said "I thought it was a picture of me."

Thanks to John Taylor, Aaron received a full pardon and was released in 1982 after 10 years in prison. But that's all he got. He never received any compensation at all. The conviction still appears on his record, which has made life after prison even more difficult.

Aaron now works for John, doing investigation and legal work. Both fan's of the Oakland A's, you will often find them sitting at the ballpark together, friends with a unique bond.      




David Quindt
County: Sacramento
Convicted of: 1st Degree Murder
Year of Conviction: 1999
Sentence:   Life without parole
Year Released: 2000
Years Served: 14 months
Wrongful Conviction Factors: Mistaken eyewitness identification

When the police called asking about a double murder, David Quindt did what most innocent people do. "I said sure, I'll talk to you, I have nothing to hide, I didn't do this." He met with police, answering all of their questions and even taking a lie detector test. But then he was convicted based on the identification of one eyewitness. "I was dumbfounded," David said, "I couldn't believe what was going on at all."

The shock took its toll on the 24 year old man. "I had a nervous breakdown when I was there [in jail]," he said. David attempted suicide twice, first jumping out of a fourth story window, then cutting his stomach open.

But then he began to focus, realizing he had to help himself or he would never go home. "I always said I will go home." He began researching his case and the law. He drew strength from an unlikely source, a guard. "He always told me don't give up, keep going," David said. "If it wasn't for that one cop, I don't think I would have made it."

Then, out of no where, the Deputy District Attorney who had him convicted, Mark Curry, came to visit in prison. He said, "David, I'm sorry. You get to go home on Monday." New evidence, revealed after David's trial, led the district attorney to the true killer. David burst into tears.

He spent another difficult weekend in jail and then had to suffer the indignity of being released from the back gate, rather than the front door. But when he walked to the front of the jail, David saw his grandmother waiting for him and again started to cry.
Two years in custody for a crime he did not commit changed David's whole life. "People don't know how precious life is," he said. "When I got out, I was like a reborn child." But when he got out, he had nothing and found himself and his wife homeless for a time. "We're still struggling," David said, "but I'll make it. I made it through this and nothing could be worse."      




Ron Reno

County: Fresno
Convicted of: Felon in possession of a firearm
Year of Conviction: 1997
Sentence: 25 years to life
Year Released: 2002
Years Served: 5.5 years
Wrongful Conviction Factors: Poor defense

On April 16, 1996, Ron Reno's friend Preston Marsh was in trouble with the law. Suspected of using someone else's credit card to buy merchandise, Marsh took off, leaving behind a gun in a boot box in Reno's truck. Police found the gun and charged Reno with being a felon in possession of a gun, as well as the crimes theft that they suspected Marsh of.

Because Reno had prior convictions, he was charged as a three-strikes defendant and faced a life sentence. His trial attorney did no investigation to find Marsh or to follow up with other witnesses. Rather he untruthfully told Reno that the witnesses would not help him and that if he did not take a deal, he would spend the rest of his life in prison. Reno accepted the deal and pled guilty. On subsequent appeals, the courts found that trial counsel had been ineffective.

Several years into his sentence, Reno encountered Marsh in prison. Reno told Marsh that he had been convicted of possession of a firearm because they had found the gun in the boot box. Marsh was surprised, said he had no idea and acknowledged that he owned the gun and had hidden it in the boot box in the truck. He provided a declaration and met with the District Attorney, reiterating his responsibility for the gun.

With Marsh's declaration, as well as the declarations of all the other witnesses, the Innocence Project filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus arguing that this new evidence demonstrates that Reno is actually innocent of the crime to which he pled guilty and for which he received a life sentence. The prosecution opposed the writ. Then, the day before the hearing was to begin, the DA offered Reno a deal and he was released with time served.     




Peter J. Rose
County: San Joaquin
Convicted of: Kidnap (child under 14), Forcible Rape, and Forcible Oral Copulation
Year of Conviction: 1995
Sentence: 27 years
Year Released: 2004
Years Served: 9 years, 10 months
Wrongful Conviction Factors: Police misconduct; mistaken eyewitness; junk science

On the morning of November 29, 1994, in Lodi, California, a 13-year old girl en route to school was grabbed and dragged into an alley by a man who punched her in the face, assaulted and raped her.

The victim told police she did not know the identity of her attacker. Peter Rose was acquainted with the victim and her family. The girl's aunt repeatedly suggested Rose's name to the victim and to the police. However, the girl did not select his photo from a spread and continued to maintain she did not know the attacker. Three weeks after the rape, following a coercive three hour interrogation, the girl raised Rose's name tentatively. At trial, she identified Rose with certainty. A state criminalist testified that Rose was within 30% of the population who could have deposited the semen found on the victim's underwear. The prosecutor relied on this evidence in closing argument to corroborate the eyewitness testimony. The jury convicted Rose, and the court sentenced him to 27 years in prison.

The Northern California Innocence Project at Golden Gate University in San Francisco began work on Rose's case in 2003. Initially, county officials maintained that all the evidence in the case had been destroyed. Students found one piece of evidence still in existence: a cutting from the victim's underwear. DNA testing excluded Rose as the perpetrator and resulted in his release from prison in 2004. In 2005, the Court declared him factually innocent. The Lodi police investigated themselves and found no wrongdoing. The real perpetrator has not been identified.     




Chol Soo Lee
County: San Francisco
Convicted of: 1st Degree Murder
Year of Conviction: 1973
Sentence: Life (then sentenced to death)
Year Released: 1983
Years Served: 10 years
Wrongful Conviction Factors: Misconduct by police and prosecutors, mistaken eyewitness identification

Chol Soo Lee, came to the United States from Korea in 1964, settling in San Francisco's Chinatown. In the early '70s, a gang war was ragging in Chinatown and the police were under intense pressure to make arrests. "They needed a scapegoat and the scapegoat turned out to be me," Chol said. In 1974, at the age of 20, he was wrongfully convicted of murder and sent to prison in Tracy.

Chol describes Tracy as "one of the most violent prisons in California." Racial gang wars ragged. With very few other Asian prisoners, Chol found himself in prison yard with African-Americans on one side, whites on the other "and me standing alone in the middle." Warned by a guard that he was the target of a hit, Chol stabbed a man in self-defense, killing him.

A small article ran in the paper about, catching the eye of a Korean reporter, Kyung Wong Lee ("K.W." Lee). Lee's nephew has the same name as Chol. K. W. Lee visited Chol and began investigating the original conviction, leading to a series of articles, leading to the creation of the Chol Sol Lee Defense Committee. "There was a flood of support coming to me," Chol said, "and that was support of the purest form of humanity, unselfish, giving to a man going on trial for his life."

Because even while K.W. Lee was uncovering the falsity of Chol's original conviction, the state was seeking the death penalty in the prison yard incident, based on the prior murder conviction. Indeed, in 1979, Chol was sent to death row, even though the courts had already vacated the prior conviction based on the work of K.W. Lee, the defense community, and dedicated lawyers.

The community movement went from local, to national, to international, as people from across the U.S. to Korea rallied in support of Chol. After eight years on death row, he was finally freed in 1983 after his conviction was overturned due to false testimony by prison informants.

"The most important thing that I learned from my struggle to get out of prison," Chol said, "is that it was not just a struggle for freedom but for humanity, a struggle that prevailed against all odds."      




John Stoll
County: Kern
Convicted of: Child Molestation
Year of Conviction: 1985
Sentence: 40 years
Year Released: 2004
Years Served: 20 years
Wrongful Conviction Factors: Police/prosecutorial misconduct; false testimony

In the 1980s, Kern County and other places around the world got caught up in a wave of child molestation hysteria that led to the convictions of many innocent men and women. Authorities suspected that as many as 248 Kern County residents were committing group acts of Satanism, incest, infanticide, and mass molestation of children. Law enforcement personnel, social services workers, and prosecutors used improper interviewing techniques to push children into making false reports of sexual abuse. After a broad investigation, the California Attorney General issued a lengthy report criticizing Kern County's improper methods in investigating cases of suspected child sexual abuse during this period. Since then, federal and state courts have reversed the convictions of 34 defendants in Kern County molest cases on evidence that the convictions were the result of unreliable evidence.  

John Stoll was one of the victims of this hysteria. He had been involved in an ugly custody dispute and divorce when police and social workers turned a report by his son of child sex play into a full-blown child molestation ring, with Stoll as the leader. At one point Stoll faced thirty-one counts of child molestation, later reduced to eighteen, involving six children, including his own son, and three co-defendants. No physical evidence corroborated the inconsistent stories of the children. Though authorities alleged Stoll and his co-defendants routinely sodomized the children, no one took the children to a doctor for examination or treatment. Nonetheless, Stoll was convicted of 17 counts of molestation.

In 2001 the Northern California Innocence Project learned of Stoll's case and began the fight to free him. In 2004, after a habeas corpus evidentiary hearing at which four former child witnesses testified to being forced to testify falsely against Stoll and his co-defendants and one recalled no molestation, a judge overturned Stoll's convictions and he was finally freed.     




Rick Walker
County: Santa Clara
Convicted of: 1st Degree Murder 
Year of Conviction: 1991
Sentence: 25 to life
Year Released: 2003
Years Served: 12 years
Wrongful Conviction Factor: False testimony; poor defense

As a young man, Quedellis Ricardo "Rick" Walker was working as a car mechanic and struggling with a drug addiction. He and his family dreamed of putting townhouses on their land and, in Rick's words, "living happily ever after." Those dreams were destroyed in 1991 when Rick was falsely convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Rick's former-girlfriend, Lisa Hopewell, had been murder. "That was all they needed," Rick said, "I was a Black man from East Palo Alto, at the time when East Palo Alto was the murder capital of the world, and they did not need much else to convince the jurors that I was a monster."
"In the beginning, prison was my own personal hell," said Rick. "I had gotten bitter, angry. . . . I felt that the system had completely let me down and my family."
Eventually, Rick realized that "anger will tear you apart . . . and leave you hollow spiritually." Rick looked at himself and said, "You're a survivor and you need to get up and fight. So I got up and fought, and began to change."

Rick cleaned up his life, giving up coffee, cigarettes, drugs, and profanity. He joined the Christian population and taught Bible study on Saturday nights where he "began to help other guys with the healing process."

Then one day they told him to call his attorney but he couldn't get through. "When all else fails," Rick said, "Call momma. So I called my mother and she said 'you're coming home.' It was so emotional. It's like you're carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders and its suddenly lifted."

Alison Tucher, a lawyer and family friend, had volunteered to take on Rick's case. Her dogged investigation resulted in DNA and other new evidence proving Rick was innocent and identifying the real killers. In 2003, after more than 12 years in prison, Rick was released. "They just turned my loose back into society with nothing," said Rick.

Rick once again works as a mechanic and spends his time with his family, the two young nieces he is raising and his mother and adult son, who stood by him through everything.        

All of the photos on this page were taken by Rick Rocamora except the photo of Arvind Balu. 

 

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