Oakland Tribune

Calif. Man Wrongly Sent to Prison Will be Freed

The victim, who was under morphine, was shown a photo line-up that never included a man with a violent past.

Feb. 17--OAKLAND -- For the better part of the last six years, Ronald Ross has been confined to a cell at Solano State Prison for a crime he never committed.

The victim of three false identifications that were sparked by a sloppy Oakland Police Department investigation, Ross was convicted on Nov. 8, 2006, of attempted murder and assault with a firearm in the shooting of a West Oakland man.

Seven months later, the 51-year-old with a below-average intelligence rating, was sentenced to prison for 25 years to life knowing he was innocent, yet unable to prove he was the victim of a hasty investigation and an ineffective defense.

On Friday, Ross was told he will be freed next week after law students working for Santa Clara University Law School's Northern California Innocence Project and attorneys from the San Francisco law firm Keker & Van Nest uncovered multiple errors in Ross case and enough evidence to prove his innocence.

Ross was expected to be released Friday, but a legal technicality and a court holiday pushed his freedom until next week. Nevertheless, Ross appeared excited with the news as he sat in court smiling and shaking the hands of the attorneys who found the truth.

"It's been hard," said Ross' mother, Thelma Ross, 77. "I'm just excited and overwhelmed; I thank the Lord," she said. "Thank the Lord for the lawyers."

Ross' ordeal began in April 2006 when Renardo Williams was shot in the ribs after answering a knock on

his front door. The shooting, Williams later said, was connected to an argument he had had with Steven Embrey Jr., a teenager who lived near Williams. Williams told police that Embrey's mother, Nikki Stuart, threatened him after the argument saying, she was going to get "her man" to take care of Williams.

After the shooting, Williams told police that two men and Embrey Jr. knocked on his door and that one of the men shot him. Williams initially said he believed one of the men was Steven Embrey Sr., the teenager's father.

But Oakland police Sgt. Steven Lovell, the primary detective on the case, never investigated Embrey Sr. and instead looked through a criminal database for pictures of men who where connected to the apartment building next door to Williams' home.

In that database, they found Ross' picture. Ross had been in the criminal database for a previous minor drug offense and he was linked to the apartment building next door to Williams's house because his mother lived there 10 years before the shooting.

With that little evidence, Lovell placed Ross picture and that of five other men on a paper photo lineup and showed it to Williams just days after the shooting as Williams lay in a hospital bed with a morphine drip.

Embrey Sr. was not included in that lineup, and Lovell, who retired early from the Police Department, made no effort to find and question him. Had Lovell investigated Embrey Sr., he would have found that Embrey Sr. had a long criminal record of violence. In fact, Embrey Sr. was later convicted of attempted murder in an unrelated case and has been linked by federal prosecutors to several shootings in West Oakland.

Williams initially identified another man before Lovell urged him to look again. Williams, believing he had to pick at least one photo, selected Ross. Embrey Jr. was then asked if Ross was the shooter and he said yes, saying later that he did so because he feared the real shooter.

At trial, both Williams and Embrey Jr. lied to the jury, saying they were positive Ross was the shooter. Stuart also lied to the jury, testifying that she hadn't seen Embrey Sr. for months.

Ross also testified, denying he had anything to do with the shooting and told the jury he was at home watching a basketball playoff game on television.

Although Ross was watching a basketball game, he was mistaken about it being a playoff game and deputy district attorney Kevin Wong used that discrepancy to argue to the jury that Ross could not be trusted.

Ross's defense attorney at the time, Michael Berger, never investigated whether another basketball game was on television, court papers state. Berger also did not forcefully challenge Lovell's investigation.

However, Berger believed that his client was innocent and contacted the Innocence Project after the verdict.

Berger could not be reached for comment Friday.

After more than six years of investigations, the project and attorneys from Keker & Van Nest discovered the truth and convinced the Alameda County District Attorney's Office to essentially reverse the conviction.

"We are going to ask that he be released," said senior deputy district attorney Michael Conner.

Evidence collected during the project's investigation included a statement by Embrey Jr. that it was his father who shot Williams. It also included testimony from Embrey Sr., who was interviewed in prison. Embrey Sr. said Ross was not present at the scene of the shooting and that another man was the shooter.

Thelma Ross said she is thankful for the attention given to her son's case and relieved that he will finally be returning home.

Despite her excitement, she said there are no plans for a party.

"No, I'm not (planning a party) because I don't have any money," she said.

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