Letter to the Editor by Richard Gambino

The following letter to the editor appears on the San Diego Reader Incoming! page located here. Liars Before We Hit the Stand Re: “When You’re Guilty til Proved Innocent,” August 20 cover story Brutal conditions, punishment and a high five to the corrections officers who hand out justice, representing all of us, upon those who would appear before a judge! I used to have those emotions, founded on the perpetration of harm upon my fellow innocent community members. Not so much anymore. I am the stepfather of Uriah Courtney. As the man who told a judge I would make sure my son adhered to the straight and narrow while being released to my business under a work furlough granting. I hunted him harder and more vengefully than the police when he left that program and walked away. Then, when he was caught and returned to a courtroom where they charged him with a crime on a day when I, my employee, a USPS contracting officer, and a visitor from Guatemala who was with me at the time, all stood with my son at the moment a young women was being assaulted 15 miles away, I made a commitment to his mother and her son that I would not stop until this was corrected. A female juror who was so kind to speak to me within minutes after voting guilty in my son’s case, in response to my questions about my testimony on my son’s behalf, told me, “You’re his father. You love him. We thought you would lie for him.” When I questioned her about my employee’s testimony, she...

Innocence March Anniversary

Yesterday, we recognized the two year anniversary of the start of the Innocence March.  On April 27, 2013, Justin Brooks, Mike Semanchik and Alissa Bjerkhoel began a freedom march in San Diego.  712 miles and 55 days later they presented clemency petitions for the California 12 – 12 wrongfully convicted inmates – to the Governor’s staff in Sacramento.  To date, the Governor has not granted clemency to any of the 12. Fortunately, the Ventura County District Attorney agreed to the reversal and dismissal of Michael Hanline’s case in the last six months bringing the 12 down to 11.  Families, friends, supporters, attorneys, law students, and exonerees all gathered yesterday to show their support and encourage the Governor to do the right thing.  Below are pictures from the event.  To find out more about the CA 12, visit InnocenceMarch.com. Here’s a collection of the media coverage from the day – San Diego 6 NBC 7...

DA Expected to Dismiss Charges Against Michael Hanline

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Charges Expected to be Dismissed in California Innocence Project Hanline Case After 36 years in prison, Michael Hanline is longest wrongful incarceration in California history VENTURA, April 21, 2015 – The Ventura County District Attorney’s Office is expected to dismiss the charges against California Innocence Project client Michael Hanline on April 22, citing a lack of evidence to continue prosecution. In November, a Superior Court judge overturned Hanline’s 1978 murder conviction after the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law filed a petition alleging the prosecution withheld evidence of his innocence. Additionally, new DNA testing on evidence at the crime scene failed to connect Hanline to the crime. The hearing is scheduled on April 22 at 1:30  p.m. in Courtroom 13 before Judge Jeffrey Bennett. Hanline was wrongfully convicted of the shooting death of victim J.T. McGarry in 1980. At the time, prosecutors argued Hanline was jealous of McGarry because the two were romantically involved with the same woman, and that Hanline and an accomplice killed McGarry in revenge. Hanline always claimed others were responsible for the murder, and that he had been wrongfully accused. The California Innocence Project began looking into Hanline’s case in 1999, the year the project was founded, and fought for years to obtain evidence from the 1978 murder. In 2010, a federal magistrate ruled that his conviction should be overturned. Unfortunately, another federal judge overruled the reversal. Hanline’s case seemed to be over, and his only other option appeared to be the granting of clemency from the Governor. His case was one of the California 12—a dozen cases where innocence...

Michael Hanline Release Video

On November 24, 2014, Michael Hanline was released from prison after 36 years for a crime he did not commit.  He is the longest wrongful incarceration in California history.  He walked out of prison into a world entirely unknown to him.  Here’s a video from the day of his release, including his first steps of freedom, his first breath of fresh air, and his first non-prison meal at Carl’s Junior (his pick)....

Faulty Memory

For the last few days, Brian Williams has been criticized for his reporting of a 2003 Iraq war story in which he reported his helicopter was shot by an RPG.  On Wednesday, Williams admitted he had misspoke and misremembered how the incident unfolded.  The truth, as was confirmed by several people on Williams’ helicopter, was that his chopper was not hit.  Instead, it was a helicopter in front of Williams’ chopper that actually got shot at.  NBC announced an internal probe, questions arose about Williams’ reporting of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and ultimately Williams decided to take a few days off from his nightly newscast.  How could this happen? How could someone’s memory be replaced by something that did not actually happen? Finally, how does this relate to wrongful convictions, you ask? Simple: eyewitness identifications. Eyewitness misidentifications are the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States.  We as humans believe our memory works like a video camera.  We think we can rewind and play back the events that unfolded right before our eyes.  The truth is, our brains cannot store the amount of data we witness.  We remember bits and pieces from an event and fill in the gaps with what we think are the right details.  Often, our new, complete memory is drastically different from what actually occurred.  We believe we can recreate the events when in actuality our memory is pretty poor.  Add in a weapon and a high stress environment and the likelihood of a good memory plummets.  (For an awesome, more in depth look at this concept, check out this New Yorker article...

Brian Banks, the NFL, and Other Updates

Brian Banks’ Post-Exoneration Years In 2012, the California Innocence Project freed Brian Banks from lifetime registration as a sex offender and ended a long five year term on parole.  By the time CIP got involved, Banks had already served 5 years and 2 months in prison.  As with most of our exonerees, CIP continued to work with Banks to make sure he was able to get his life back in order.  Exonerees, as it turns out, receive less in the way of state services than a person released on parole (see here for more on that).  Brian was different from most clients because the NFL came calling – something no one expected – but was very much welcomed.  By the start of 2013, Brian had received calls from numerous teams and been through a number of tryouts.  Eventually, Brian played a few games of the 2013 season for a minor team in Las Vegas.  In 2014, Brian signed with the Atlanta Falcons and played through the end of the preseason.  After getting cut, Banks made the tough decision to put away his helmet.  Although Brian’s helmet is hung up, he now works for the front office of the NFL (see here for a recent story discussing his role). Continuing to Assist CIP Ever since Brian Banks became a free man on May 24, 2012, he has been working with CIP to assist with other clients’ cases.  Soon after he was able to cut off his ankle monitor, Banks worked with CIP to deliver petition signatures to the Nicaraguan Embassy in the Jason Puracal case.  Puracal was wrongly imprisoned in Nicaragua for...

Annual Dodgeball Tournament

ANNUAL CIP DODGEBALL TOURNAMENT What: 32 Team Double Elimination Dodgeball Tournament When: January 31, 2015, 2-7 p.m. Where: Ocean Beach Rec Center, 4726 Santa Monica Avenue, San Diego, CA 92107 Every year, the California Innocence Project hosts a Dodgeball Tournament fundraiser.  This year’s dodgeball event will occur on January 31, 2015 from 2-7 p.m. at the Ocean Beach Rec Center, 4726 Santa Monica Avenue, San Diego, CA 92107.  We will run a 32-team double elimination tournament and follow the International Dodgeball Rules (see here).  Vavi will provide the referees for the tournament (all calls are FINAL).  In order to participate, teams need to register and pay for the tournament by going here.  Additionally, all dodgeball players must read and sign a waiver in order to play.  You can find the waiver here.  Teams are only confirmed for the tournament when registration, payment, and all waiver forms are submitted to CIP. CIP will give out awards to the top two dodgeball teams.  Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, one dodgeball team will be crowned the Best Costume of 2015.  All awards will be given out at Wonderland, 5083 Santa Monica Avenue, San Diego, CA 92107 immediately following the tournament.  Students will be in the 350 Cedar Street 1st Floor Lobby to answer questions from 9:00 – 12:30 on the following dates: January 20, 22, and 26-30th.  We hope to see you out there.  Good luck!...

A Look Back at 2014

2014 has been an amazing year for us at the California Innocence Project.  Here’s a quick recap of our accomplishments, along with some photos showing our successes: Freed Michael Hanline – Hanline spent 36 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.  He had the longest wrongful incarceration in California history. Freed Matthew and Grace Huang – the Huangs were wrongfully imprisoned in Qatar for the tragic accidental death of their daughter. Freed Jason Rivera – Rivera spent 19 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.  Rivera was released on parole this year thanks to staff attorneys Alissa Bjerkhoel and Raquel Cohen. Freed Roeling Adams – Adams spent 28 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.  Adams was released on parole this year thanks to the California Innocence Project’s investigation. Saw the new compensation statute take effect – the compensation bill we pushed through last year took effect on January 1, 2014.  The California Innocence Project filed compensation claims in six cases, seeking in excess of $2.8 million from the state of California for the time our clients spent in prison.  By the way, we don’t take a single penny from the compensation claims. Pushed through a change to the DNA testing statute in California to make it easier for inmates claiming innocence to get testing.  Additionally, the law extends the period of time an agency holding evidence must wait before destroying it. Pushed through a new false evidence bill allowing for the reversal of a conviction when an expert witness recants their trial testimony. Continued to request clemency for the...

Learning from Nick Yarris

By Madison Christian Last Saturday night, I jumped on the Metro Red Line in North Hollywood to make my way down to the CIP vigil at Los Angeles City Hall the purpose of which was to urge Governor Jerry Brown to grant clemency to the California 12. I didn’t have anyone to go with, so I went it alone because I thought it important to be there in both body and spirit for the families whose sons and daughters have been rotting away in prison for far too many years. It’s easy to be lazy about folks like the California 12 when you have no connection to them other than through newspaper articles, online blogs, media reports, and other abstract sources. That apathy is even more pronounced during the holiday season when the traditional focus is on one’s own family and friends. But I’d been following the story of the California 12, and was encouraged by CIP’s recent success in gaining freedom for Michael Hanline, so I mustered up the energy and headed for downtown. When I arrived at City Hall about thirty minutes early, there were a bunch of folks milling about in anticipation of the event to come. Half of these folks were obviously associated as students or otherwise with CIP and were clustered about in groups of blue and yellow XONR8 t-shirts idly chit-chatting with one another. The rest of the folks appeared to be primarily the family and friends of the California 12. They were easily identifiable by the over-sized photographs, posters, and banners that they had brought to the vigil. There were the parents of...