Derrick Harris Spent 7 Years in Prison For A Crime He Did Not Commit

Los Angeles, October 6, 2020 – After seven years in prison, Derrick Harris was exonerated and became a free man today. Harris was arrested in July of 2013 for an armed robbery that occurred at Hawkins House of Hamburgers.  Two men held another man at gunpoint and stole his gold chain before the perpetrators fled the scene.  The victim picked Harris out of a lineup after a police investigation.  Harris always maintained his innocence and said he was home with his girlfriend at the time of the crime.  Over the years, Harris’ co-defendant and a third-party suspect admitted to their involvement in the crime.

The California Innocence Project took on Harris’ case in 2019.  “The Project initially became interested in the case because the only evidence against Harris was a single eyewitness identification,” said Michael Semanchik, Managing Attorney at the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law.  “Eyewitness misidentifications are one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions.  Moreover, thanks to the post-conviction investigation by Harris’ trial attorney, we also knew the true perpetrators had implicated themselves and exculpated Harris in the years following the conviction.”

Desmen Mixon, Harris’ co-defendant, apologized to Harris’ girlfriend shortly after Mixon went to prison. A few years later, Mixon signed a declaration and sent it to Harris’ trial attorney, Los Angeles Public Defender Elizabeth Warner-Sterkenburg. Warner-Sterkenburg and Public Defender Investigator Steve Lewis interviewed the third-party suspect, who said, “I want to help, I have something to say, if I tell you I’ll end up doing more time, I’ll be back in court.”

In April of 2020, Semanchik presented the case to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit (CRU).  CRU Deputy in Charge Martha Carrillo quickly assigned two investigators and two attorneys.  Ultimately, the CRU concluded they had not only lost confidence in the conviction but determined Harris was factually innocent.  The Los Angeles District Attorney and the California Innocence Project entered a joint stipulation to reverse Harris’ conviction and find him factually innocent.  Derrick Harris was exonerated by Judge William C. Ryan shortly thereafter.

“This is the way exonerations should happen,” said Justin Brooks, Director of the California Innocence Project and a professor of law at California Western School of Law.  “Defense attorneys and prosecutors working together to fix mistakes from the past.  My thanks go out to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office Conviction Review Unit.”

About the California Innocence Project

The California Innocence Project is a California Western School of Law clinical program dedicated to the release of wrongfully convicted inmates and providing an outstanding educational experience for students enrolled in the clinic. The California Innocence Project receives approximately 1,500 claims from inmates each year and has freed 34 wrongfully convicted clients since its inception. Read more at: