Associated Press

Woman exonerated in murder case after 17 years
Oct 10, 2014

AP Special Correspondent

TORRANCE, Calif. (AP) - A woman who spent 17 years in prison after being convicted of murder in the death of a homeless man was exonerated Friday by a Los Angeles County judge who said she should not spend another minute behind bars.

The courtroom burst into applause after Superior Court Judge Mark Arnold overturned the conviction of Susan Mellen, who was to be processed for release from the suburban Torrance courthouse.

Mellen had entered the courtroom in tears, and her children also wept.

The judge said Mellen had inadequate representation by her attorney at trial.

"I believe that not only is Ms. Mellen not guilty, based on what I have read I believe she is innocent," he said. "For that reason I believe in this case the justice system failed."

Despite the judge's urgency, the process of release was lengthy and she remained in sheriff's custody hours later. It was not clear whether she would be freed Friday.

Mellen's case was investigated by Deirdre O'Connor, head of a project known as Innocence Matters that seeks to free people who are wrongly convicted.

O'Connor said in an earlier interview that she found that Mellen was convicted of the 1997 killing based solely on the testimony of a notorious liar.

Mellen, a mother of three, was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.

(AP Photo/Daily Breeze, Brad Graverson, Pool ). Susan Mellen, left, hugs her attorney Deirdre O'Connor, after she is exonerated of murder by Superior Court Judge Mark Arnold in Torrance, Calif., Friday, Oct. 10, 2014

The witness who claimed she heard Mellen confess was June Patti, who had a long history of giving false tips to law enforcement, according to documents in the case. She died in 2006.

Three gang members subsequently were linked to the crime, and one was convicted of the killing. Another took a polygraph test and said he was present at the bludgeon killing of Richard Daly, and Mellen was not there.

In a habeas corpus petition, O'Connor said the police detective who arrested Mellen was also responsible for a case in 1994 that resulted in the convictions of two men ultimately exonerated by innocence projects.

It said the primary evidence against Reggie Cole and Obie Anthony was the false testimony of an informant who avoided prosecution for other charges in exchange for his help.

As Mellen's family waited outside the courthouse for her release, her son, who has little memory of his mother because he was so young when she was imprisoned, opened his shirt to show reporters a broken heart he had tattooed on his chest to honor her. Donald Besch, 25 and in the Navy, said he was hoping to have some time with his mother before he is deployed overseas in a few days.

Daughter Jessica Besch, 27, said she and her fiance of eight years were waiting to get married until her mother could be at the wedding.

"We're going to go dress shopping together," she said.

Her third daughter, Julie Carroll, 39, said she looks forward to introducing her mother to Aiden, the 19-month-old grandson she had never seen.

The children were raised by their grandmother and other relatives while their mother was in prison. They said they never told friends where she was or that she had been convicted of a crime she did not commit.

Carroll said on the day of her mother's conviction, she had to tell her brother and sister that their mother would never be coming home again. "Jessica took off running down the street looking for her mother," she said.

When she finally saw her mother after not seeing her for several years, Carroll said: "You look like Grandma."

Asked if Mellen planned to sue anyone, her attorney said she had some legal recourse, but they hadn't decided whether they would take action. First, they planned to file to have her declared factually innocent.

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