D. A. stresses in­tegrity

Lacey de­tails plans for unit that will re­view in­no­cence claims by in­mates con­victed of se­ri­ous felonies.

Los Angeles Times - - LOS ANGELES - By Marisa Ger­ber marisa.ger­ber@latimes.com

Draw­ing at­ten­tion to mis­takes of the past might seem like an in­con­gru­ous goal for the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice. But Los An­ge­les County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey said her of­fice’s new con­vic­tion re­view unit will only im­prove its rep­u­ta­tion for truth- seek­ing.

Cre­at­ing a unit to in­ves­ti­gate claims of in­no­cence shows that the pur­suit of truth trumps any po­ten­tial em­bar­rass­ment that could re­sult from the ex­on­er­a­tion of a pris­oner her of­fice helped put be­hind bars, she said.

“You should not al­low your ego to get in the way of chang­ing a poor de­ci­sion,” Lacey said Mon­day dur­ing a news con­fer­ence. “My of­fice will not turn away from its duty to look at new, cred­i­ble ev­i­dence that sug­gests a mis­take was made.”

Lacey’s of­fice joins more than 15 pros­e­cu­to­rial agen­cies across the coun­try — in­clud­ing Man­hat­tan, N. Y., the U. S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice in Washington, D. C, and a hand­ful of dis­trict at­tor­neys’ of­fices in Cal­i­for­nia — that are work­ing to iden­tify in­no­cent pris­on­ers.

The new unit will re­view claims of in­no­cence and in­ves­ti­gate those that meet cer­tain cri­te­ria. Although the an­nounce­ment was met with wide­spread praise, some le­gal ex­perts said the of­fice should ex­pand the types of cases it will con­sider.

Ex­perts said the move will prob­a­bly inf lu­ence other agen­cies across the state to adopt sim­i­lar prac­tices.

“It’s a great step for­ward,” said Adam Grant of Loy­ola Law School’s Pro­ject for the In­no­cent.

The con­vic­tion re­view unit — “the CRU,” Lacey called it — will comb through letters, screen­ing for cases that fall within its strict cri­te­ria.

The unit will only ex­am­ine cases of peo­ple cur­rently in­car­cer­ated for se­ri­ous or vi­o­lent felonies who make claims of ac­tual in­no­cence, Lacey said. It won’t con­sider claims of self- de­fense or in­com­pe­tent le­gal coun­sel.

The unit also will not re­view claims from any­one who con­fessed, Lacey said.

Af­ter an ini­tial screen­ing of letters, cases will go through a sec­ond level of re- view, Lacey said. Ul­ti­mately, a com­mit­tee of depart­ment man­agers will de­cide whether to va­cate charges.

Some le­gal ex­perts said the de­ci­sion not to re­view claims from those who con­fessed could elim­i­nate the op­por­tu­nity to ex­on­er­ate some­one who was co­erced to falsely ad­mit guilt.

Deirdre O’Con­nor, who leads In­no­cence Mat­ters, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to pre­vent­ing and over­turn­ing wrong­ful con­vic­tions, said peo­ple some­times plead guilty to a crime to avoid the risk of a lengthy sen­tence.

Still, O’Con­nor praised the new move and said she ex­pects the cri­te­ria will evolve.

Mon­day’s an­nounce­ment fol­lowed the Board of Su­per­vi­sors’ ap­proval last week of nearly $ 1 mil­lion for the unit, which Lacey said will pay for three pros­e­cu­tors, a se­nior in­ves­ti­ga­tor and para­le­gal.

Some dis­trict at­tor­neys have hired lawyers with a de­fense back­ground to head their units — a move that some le­gal ex­perts say gives the leader au­ton­omy and fresh per­spec­tive. Lacey said she con­sid­ered that route but ul­ti­mately de­cided against it.

“Pros­e­cu­tors have a man­date to seek the truth,” she said. “De­fense at­tor­neys have a man­date to de­fend their client no mat­ter what the ev­i­dence shows.”

She se­lected a 22- year vet­eran of the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice, As­sis­tant Head Deputy Ken Lynch, who was pre­vi­ously a su­per­vi­sor in a gang unit.

Obie An­thony, who was freed from prison in 2011 af­ter 17 years be­hind bars, said the new unit sends a mes­sage to pros­e­cu­tors: “There is some ac­count­abil­ity,” he said.

An­thony was con­victed of a 1994 mur­der out­side a brothel in South Los An­ge­les. In 2011, a judge over­turned the con­vic­tion, con­clud­ing that the pros­e­cu­tion’s main wit­ness — a pimp — lied to the jury about get­ting a clear look at the gun­man.

An­thony said chills ran through his body as he thought about other wrong­fully con­victed peo­ple who might not lose as many years as he did.

“In­tegrity is com­ing back through the pipeline,” he said. “It’s a beau­ti­ful move by the dis­trict at­tor­ney.”

Peo­ple can send claims of in­no­cence to: Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Con­vic­tion Re­view Unit, Attn: AHD Ken Lynch, 320 W. Tem­ple St., Los An­ge­les, CA 90012.

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