County of Conviction: Los Angeles
Convicted of: First-Degree Murder
Sentence: 25 Years to Life
Years Served: 16 Years
Released: May 15, 2010
Cost of Wrongful Incarceration: $720,000
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge John J. Cheroske granted a motion by Christopher Plourd and the California Innocence Project to dismiss charges against Reggie Cole, 14 years after he was sentenced to life without parole for the shooting death of Felipe Angeles in 1994.
The request came after years of investigation by attorney Plourd and the California Innocence Project, who together uncovered and presented exculpatory evidence and evidence of fabricated testimony.
Cole was convicted in part based on the testimony of John Jones, an alleged eyewitness to the shooting. Jones, who lived in an apartment building at the crime scene, testified that he saw Cole shoot Angeles and then saw Cole either fall and hurt his leg or get shot in the leg by another gunman as he was running away from the scene. Police searched for possible suspects with leg injuries who sought medical treatment in local hospitals. Two days after the incident, Arthur Jones, an employee at a local hospital, saw a man with an apparent leg injury and later identified him as Cole.
The testimony of John Jones and Arthur Jones (who are not related) went unchallenged until 2007, when Cole faced the death penalty for the murder of Eddie Eugene Clark (a.k.a. “the Devil”), who Cole stabbed in self-defense during a prison fight in November of 2000.
After five years of investigation following the killing of “the Devil,” Cole’s counsel, Christopher Plourd, filed a Notice of Motion to Strike the underlying conviction. The motion was based on evidence that much of John Jones’ testimony was fabricated and that exculpatory evidence was never disclosed to the defense.
Plourd also discovered that an article in the Los Angeles Times Magazine published in 1995 and a book entitled, The Killing Season, published in 1997, both written by Miles Corwin, documented the investigation of Cole’s case and contained exculpatory evidence. On October 24, 2007, The Honorable Donal B. Donnelly ordered an evidentiary hearing to consider Cole’s Motion to Strike.
During the evidentiary hearing, John Jones testified that he did not tell the whole truth when interviewed by detectives because he operated a prostitution house at the time. John Jones testified that he actually got his description of the shooter from his daughters, Angela and T.J. Jones, and not from his personal observations. T.J. Jones testified that she saw the shooter on the night of the incident and then again on her birthday April 11, 1994. By April 11, 1994, Cole was in custody for the Felipe Angeles homicide and thus could not have been the person T.J. saw. Additionally, John Jones testified that one of the detectives told him before trial that Cole had a bullet wound in his leg. Jones became certain that his identification was correct. Cole was not shot in the leg on March 27, 1994. Jones told investigators that “if he [Cole] was not shot that night, he ain’t the man” who committed the crime.
At the conclusion of the 2007 hearing, Judge Donnelly granted the motion to strike the underlying conviction on the ground that Cole received constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel.
On January 2, 2009, the California Innocence Project filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Cole alleging that Cole received ineffective assistance of counsel when his trial attorney failed to investigate and present exculpatory evidence; the prosecution withheld material, exculpatory evidence; false evidence was introduced against Cole at his trial; and the prosecutor engaged in misconduct.
On April 8, 2009, Deputy District Attorney Hyman Sisman conceded on Cole’s habeas petition that Cole received ineffective assistance of counsel and on April 15, 2009, Judge Jerry E. Johnson of the Los Angeles Superior Court vacated the murder conviction.
Christopher Plourd commented, “Reggie Cole’s 15-year nightmare of unjust captivity ends with the dismissal of murder charges that brought him face to face with the death penalty. Justice, though long denied, has been realized through a search for the truth and the support of his loving family and determined supporters.”
“Mr. Cole is ecstatic, his family is ecstatic, this is a great day,” said Justin Brooks, Director of the California Innocence Project.