County of Conviction: Los Angeles
Convicted of: Murder
Sentence: 25 Years to Life
Years Served: 23 Years
In 1993, Stephan Billiard was wrongfully convicted of murder. On October 19, 1992, a tall, skinny, African-American male shot and killed Derrick Jennings in the Nickerson Gardens neighborhood of South Central, Los Angeles. Nearly a year later, Stephan Billiard was tried and convicted of the murder based on the false testimony of Lori Mitchell. Mitchell, a known police informant, claimed Stephan Billiard, Dameian Hartfield, and Calvin Hodges committed the murder. Mitchell was not 100% truthful, however.
Approximately five months before the murder, Stephan Billiard and Hodges subleased Mitchell’s apartment from her. The pair paid Mitchell $1,200 to use the apartment through August. After several months, Mitchell informed Billiard and Hodges that she needed the apartment back because she had a parole officer coming to conduct an inspection. It was around then that Mitchell found out there was an eviction notice because she failed to pay rent to the landlord. Mitchell agreed to pay some of the money back to Billiard and Hodges for kicking them out early, but felt they owed her $200 of the $1,200 nonetheless.
One month after the shooting, on November 17, 1992, Hartfield went to Mitchell’s apartment, demanded the money back, and Mitchell up. Hartfield threatened to kill Mitchell if she did not pay the money back. That evening, Mitchell called the police and asked for assistance with the eviction proceedings. The police told her they could not help with the proceedings. Mitchell called back and told police she knew who killed Jennings, and gave her first statement implicating Billiard, Hartfield, and Hodges at that time.
According to Mitchell, on October 19, 1992, around 2:30 a.m., she was “just hanging out” at Nickerson Gardens smoking cocaine with her two friends. Around 3:00 a.m., while smoking crack outside of the “rock house,” Mitchell saw Jennings walk by with a friend. Soon after, Mitchell claimed to see Billiard, Hartfield, and Hodges walk by with guns in their hands, following behind Jennings. After Hartfield fired a shot, Mitchell took off running and saw nothing else.
At trial, Billiard’s defense attorney failed to present any witnesses, even though Billiard’s alibi witness was present in the courtroom and ready to testify. In addition to Billiard’s alibi witness, six witnesses that lived in Nickerson Gardens were not contacted by the defense attorney. Had they been called, they would have testified to a different set of facts from those put forth by Lori Mitchell. All six witnesses similarly described the perpetrator as a tall, slender, black male with a beanie or hat over his face. (Billiard is short and stocky.)
After trial, Lori Mitchell’s mother Florence Mitchell wrote a letter to Billiard’s defense attorney. In the letter, Florence stated that Mitchell was at home all night with her and could not have witnessed the shooting. Later in the evening on the night of the shooting, someone called Mitchell and informed her Jennings had been shot. Mitchell had, in fact, lied.
After conducting an investigation into the case, the California Innocence Project (CIP) realized that not only was Mitchell responsible for Billiard’s wrongful conviction, but also Roeling Adams. Mitchell was a seasoned confidential informant who knew how to work the system to receive compensation for testimony. Ultimately, her informant duties caused her to relocate to New York where CIP investigators found her. Unfortunately, Mitchell was not willing to revisit her past and sit down for an interview with CIP.
In 2015, after years of investigation and litigation, Billiard was granted parole and released. Although he has his freedom back, he still carries a conviction that does not belong to him. CIP has asked the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit to reverse his conviction due to Lori Mitchell’s false testimony.