County of Conviction: Los Angeles
Convicted of: First-Degree Murder, Armed Robbery
Sentence: 32 Years to Life
Years Served: 23 Years
Released: February 9, 2007
Cost of Wrongful Incarceration: $1,035,000
Atkins was convicted of one count of murder and two counts of robbery on July 28, 1987, after being identified by a frightened woman who witnessed her husband being shot in the chest during an attempted carjacking. The police were led to Atkins when a woman named Denise Powell told police that Atkins had confessed to being an accomplice in the killing.
Denise Powell testified that she fabricated the story of Atkins’s confession. Powell recanted the testimony that helped convict Atkins, saying that she made the confession up and was afraid of changing her story after lying to police.
In his decision Tynan stated that Powell’s recantation, together with the “unreliable and changing [eye-witness] identification causes this court to find that absent Powell’s testimony, no reasonable judge or jury would have convicted Atkins.” To get Powell’s recantation Wendy Koen, then a second-year law student in the California Innocence Project, worked tirelessly to track her down and get a signed declaration.
“Tim’s case has been quite an education. It is a blueprint for what is wrong with the American criminal justice system,” said Koen. “Though we celebrate at this moment, I know that tomorrow we will be fighting battles – most of them losing battles – for other inmates who are actually innocent and deserve justice.”