On January 12th, 1985, I was sentenced to 25-years-to-life, for a crime I did not commit. I was 27-years-old the day I first heard a prison cell gate shut behind me…my son Nicholas was just four when he lost his father. We missed 28 years of birthdays, Christmases, milestones and everything in between.
My first ten years in prison were exceptionally difficult. I was angry and bitter, and adjusting to life behind bars was stressful beyond your wildest nightmares. Whatever you’ve heard or seen in films or on TV doesn’t compare to the reality. The things I experienced in prison I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies, including those who helped put me there. Until you’ve spent one day, much less 9,962 you will never know what it’s like. Only two things kept me going…knowing I was innocent…and knowing that my son needed me.
I filed appeal after appeal after appeal, thinking sooner or later someone would hear me out – but the system wants nothing to do with an innocent person. Then I found Centurion Ministries. When they read my case file they KNEW I was innocent. They could see it in the way the investigation and trial had been conducted, and they set out to help me prove my innocence. But even with them on my side, it would take another 14 years and half a million dollars to set me free.
28 years – half my life has been spent in prison for a crime I didn’t commit—and I could have been released earlier. I had several hearings where I was told if I just showed remorse for my crime I would be considered for parole. But the one thing I told myself, and son, I would NEVER do was admit to a crime I didn’t commit—even if it meant continuing to suffer behind bars. Clearing my name meant clearing my family’s name, and I wanted that as much as I wanted my freedom.
I believed in the system until the day my life was taken from me. But now I know better. I know that detectives, who are more interested in closing a case than solving a crime, can ignore multiple alibi witnesses, withhold evidence, and even falsify entire reports. I know now that you should never allow yourself to be questioned without a lawyer present. I also know that eyewitnesses can be influenced and coerced, and can be wrong… as often as they are right. As proven by the 1,080 currently registered exonorees. A number that continues to grow at an alarming rate.
If any of you doubt my innocence, just read my case file. My son did when he was 15- years old and even he understood what happened to his father. If you don’t want to read hundreds of pages, just read the eight-page decision written by the judge who overturned my conviction. Or read the declaration of the eyewitness who sent me to prison, in which he recanted his testimony and revealed police misconduct. Or read the testimony of one of the detectives who sent me to prison. He was questioned at a hearing not long ago, and admitted, on the witness stand, that he withheld evidence in my case. Evidence that would have saved me from 28 years in hell. And might well have lead them to the true murderer who remains at large
I can never get my life back. I can never make up for the 28 years I missed in my son’s life—and he can never get back the years of suffering we both had to endure. But we move on from here. Anyone who knows us will tell you that Nicholas and I have worked hard to forgive everyone who has wronged us, and live the rest of our lives practicing that kind of forgiveness. But that doesn’t mean we are going to go quietly.
No amount of money can give me my life back. What I have lost cannot be returned. But am I wrong for wanting those who harmed me to pay for what they did? For what they did to my son, my mother and my father who died while I was in prison… a funeral I was not allowed to attend. Even my sisters were devastated by my conviction and imprisonment. They lost their big brother and our family name was ruined—their lives were damaged forever.
Today, I am filing a civil rights lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Detectives who put me behind bars. I was denied my liberty, freedom and justice and now I want them back. I want those who wronged me and my family in a court of law, to pay for what they did…in a court of law. And I want the world to know what happened to me, so it doesn’t happen to you.