County of Conviction: Los Angeles
Convicted of: Murder
Sentence: 25 Years to Life
Year of Conviction: 1997
Jason Guzman has been imprisoned since 1997 for a crime he did not commit. He has maintained his innocence ever since. His conviction was the product of a poor investigation. A thorough investigation has not only revealed Guzman’s innocence but the identity of the real perpetrators.
On the afternoon of September 11, 1995, Los Angeles police discovered the body of Raul Alegria, dead from multiple gunshot wounds, including a fatal one that had pierced his lungs. Alegria was a member of the Avenues gang, an enemy of the Highland Park gang, whose members included Guzman at the time. Alegria had gotten into a confrontation with Guzman earlier in the day, but the two went their separate ways. Around 2:30 p.m., Alegria got into another dispute with two Hispanic men. Shortly after, gunshots were heard and a yellow station wagon pulled away from the curb, driving down the wrong side of the road. A ‘concerned citizen’ told police that the ‘word on the street’ was that Guzman was the shooter.
At the time of the shooting, Guzman was at home, taking care of his girlfriend Angela Nunez’s child, an alibi corroborated by his neighbor, who came over to his apartment to use his phone at the approximate time of the shooting.
The case against Jason Guzman consisted almost entirely of testimony of two individuals. An eyewitness claimed he saw Guzman laughing in the suspect vehicle after the shooting. However, the person described by the eyewitness lacked the large, clearly visible tattoos that Guzman possessed. In addition, the eyewitness failed to identify Guzman on the day of the shooting in a police lineup. The other witness, a police deputy, claimed he overheard Guzman tell Diane Schell that “he was going to have to care of” a problem in his neighborhood. But Schell denies having ever heard such a conversation, and she questioned why someone would ever say something so incriminating in front of a deputy.
Another key element of the prosecution’s argument was the testimony of Nunez who, under intense pressure and threats of prosecution, told police that Guzman had confessed to her. She retracted those statements almost immediately and, to this day, maintains that Guzman never confessed. But Dr. Richard Ofshe, a “world-renowned expert on influence interrogation,” stated that the kind of tactics the detective used against her greatly diminished the reliability of her statements. Dr. Ofshe also concluded that Nunez was influenced by threats made during an off-tape conversation.
Finally, the route the shooter took does not align with the prosecution’s theory that Guzman was involved. If Guzman was returning home in the direction the eyewitness saw the car go, it would be nonsensical for him to take a route that not only takes significantly longer, but also goes by the crime scene, exposing himself to responding police officers.
Post-conviction investigation has revealed the real perpetrators of the crime, neither of whom are Guzman. The California Innocence Project is now pursuing multiple avenues of overturning Guzman’s wrongful conviction.