September 30, 2011

Judge Overturns Conviction and Vacates Life Sentence of Northern California Innocence Project Client

NCIP Supervising Attorney, Paige Kaneb and Obie Anthony
NCIP Supervising Attorney, Paige Kaneb and Obie Anthony
In a case representing a record third exoneration in one year, NCIP lawyers assist in getting a Los Angeles man’s murder and attempted robbery convictions set aside by uncovering new evidence of innocence

LOS ANGELES and SANTA CLARA, CA – September 30, 2011 – A Los Angeles County superior court judge today threw out the 1995 murder and attempted robbery convictions of Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) client Obie Anthony.
Judge Kelvin Filer granted the habeas petition on the basis of the cumulative harm of prosecutorial misconduct, specifically the trial prosecutor's failure to correct the false testimony of its key witness, and the prosecution's failure to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense, specifically the fact that the prosecution’s key witness received a “sweetheart deal” in exchange for his testimony against Mr. Anthony.

In overturning the conviction, Judge Filer said that the prosecution’s chief witness, around whom the entire case for trial was built, “will say almost anything to avoid consequences to himself . . . in an earlier proceeding, he lied about the death of his own mother.”

Judge Filer issued the order after lawyers for NCIP at Santa Clara University School of Law, who have represented Anthony for three years, along with lawyers from Loyola Law School’s Project for the Innocent, presented evidence of his innocence during an 11-day evidentiary hearing earlier this month.

During the hearing Anthony’s lawyers demonstrated the prosecution’s key witness had lied repeatedly at trial and that the prosecution knew of his lies but failed to correct them for the jury. They also presented evidence that the prosecution suppressed evidence that impeached its witnesses, that Anthony is actually innocent, and that Anthony’s defense attorney at trial failed to investigate and present information that suggested Jones was the actual killer.

Mr. Anthony’s team of lawyers was comprised of NCIP lawyers Paige Kaneb, Linda Starr and Seth Flagsberg, Loyola Law School’s Project for the Innocent lawyers Adam Grant and Laurie Levenson, and Federal Public Defender Investigator Deborah Crawford. Law students from Santa Clara University School of Law and Loyola Law School also assisted.

“This conviction should have never happened,” said NCIP Legal Director Linda Starr. “Police purposely ignored and hid evidence that did not support their theory, and manipulated the witnesses to create evidence to support their misguided tunnel vision. The prosecution falsely denied that they granted their star witness a deal for his cooperation and failed to correct his lies at trial. And Mr. Anthony’s own attorney failed to investigate the case. For their failures, Mr. Anthony has spent 17 years in prison for a murder that he did not commit - and the actual murderer has remained free. This cannot be considered justice.”

“Obie Anthony is an innocent man who has survived this ordeal with grace and courage,” said NCIP attorney Paige Kaneb. “Even now, Mr. Anthony is not angry. Instead, he just wants to start his life as a free man, go to college, and then devote his time to helping others.”

The Crime
Anthony was convicted of the March 27, 1994 attempted robbery and murder of Felipe Gonzales primarily based on the testimony of one star witness, John Jones, a pimp with a prior manslaughter conviction.

Shortly before midnight that evening, Felipe Gonzales, Victor Trejo, and Luis Jimenez drove to a house of prostitution in Los Angeles on the corner of 49th Street and Figueroa Street. Gonzales got out to solicit the services of one of the prostitutes, while the others remained in the vehicle. Security guards employed by John Jones–who operated the house of prostitution–informed Gonzales that the woman he asked about was unavailable and that he should return the next day. As he walked back to the car, three or four men surrounded him and the car, demanding money.

According to the victims, one of the robbers opened the passenger door and began shooting at the occupants, at which point Trejo drove away. Trejo saw Gonzales running, and as the car turned the corner he heard more shots, but saw nothing more.

Gonzales’ body was found on the corner of 49th and Figueroa.

Police had no leads on the crime, until one month later, when Elliot Santana falsely claimed to have been carjacked at gunpoint by three men, and identified Anthony and two of his friends, Reggie Cole and Michael Miller, as those men. Police proceeded to put photographs of Anthony, Cole and Miller into photographic lineups and showed the lineups to witnesses to the Gonzales murder.

Of the seven people shown the photographs, only one, John Jones, positively identified Anthony and Cole. No one identified Miller. Based on Jones’ identifications, Anthony and Cole were arrested and charged with the murder of Gonzales and related offenses. Police then conducted a live lineup and again, Jones was the sole person to positively identify Anthony.

The prosecution’s case at trial rested entirely on eyewitness testimony. The fingerprints lifted from the car did not match Anthony or Cole, nor did shoeprints taken from the scene. Detectives found no murder weapon or clothing that matched the descriptions provided by witnesses. In fact, no physical evidence ever connected either man to the crime. Both Anthony and Cole presented numerous alibi witnesses who testified that the two men were home on the night of the murder. Despite this, both were convicted and received prison sentences of life without the possibility of parole.

The carjacking counts for which Anthony and Cole were originally identified, were dismissed when Santana revealed prior to his testimony—but after opening statements in which the jury heard about both crimes—that he had fabricated the allegation because he didn’t want his wife to find out he had been with a prostitute. The jury was informed only that the charges were dismissed and they were not to speculate why.

Re-investigation Uncovers Evidence of Innocence
An NCIP team, along with a Loyola Law School team and Federal Public Defender Investigator Deborah Crawford, conducted an exhaustive re-investigation of the case. They uncovered new evidence that the prosecution had concealed from the defense that John Jones was rewarded for his testimony and lied about it at trial.

Jones also signed a declaration swearing that he never actually saw the perpetrators well enough to identify them. He explained at the hearing that he had obtained descriptions of the perpetrators from others and that the detectives had indicated which photographs they expected him to select, and then fed him false information that gave him confidence in his identifications of Anthony and Cole, including information that one of them had been shot.

Further, Anthony’s attorneys uncovered and presented numerous witnesses who say that Jones employed armed security to protect his building, that Jones always carried a gun and fired at people to protect his business, that Jones was on the roof that night, and that the ballistics evidence shows that the fatal shot was more likely to have come from the roof than from the ground.

In addition, Luis Jimenez, one of the surviving victims who was never interviewed by defense counsel and did not testify at trial, testified at the evidentiary hearing that the shooters were not teenagers and were at least 25-30 years old. Anthony and Cole were teenagers at the time. Jimenez also testified that he had studied the people in the six-packs and live lineups, wanting to make identification because the police said they had caught the perpetrators, but he simply did not recognize anyone.

The court ordered Anthony released on his own recognizance, pending the completion of release paperwork.


Linda Starr, NCIP Legal Director: 408-718-3910
Northern California Innocence Project: 408-554-4790
Paige Kaneb, NCIP Supervising Attorney: 908-892-3170

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