A woman who was released from jail two weeks ago after serving 17 years behind bars for a murder conviction that was overturned is due back in a Torrance courtroom Friday, when a judge will consider a defense request to have her declared factually innocent of the 1997 killing.
Susan Marie Mellen, a 59-year-old mother of three, is due back before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark S. Arnold, who ordered her to be released Oct. 10.
“I believe (that) not only is Ms. Mellen not guilty, I believe based on what I have read that she is innocent,” Arnold said at the Oct. 10 hearing.
The judge said at that hearing that Mellen’s conviction appeared to be based on the account of a”habitual liar” who testified about Mellen’s purported confession to her involvement in the 1997 killing of Richard Daly. Arnold said it also appeared that Mellen had received “sub-par representation” from her trial attorney, noting that a “thorough investigation” should have been done into June Patti’s credibility.
“Had it been done and had evidence been presented to the jury about June Patti’s lack of credibility, I believe that the jury would not have found Ms. Mellen guilty,” the judge said. It was not immediately clear what position the District Attorney’s Office would take on Mellen’s request for a finding of factual innocence.
In the defense’s motion for a finding of innocence, Deirdre O’Connor of the Torrance-based Innocence Matters wrote that Mellen has “presented consistent evidence of her innocence” and that “there is not a single reliable piece of evidence that points to her guilt.”
A finding of factual innocence would pave the way for Mellen to receive $100 a day for each day she was wrongfully imprisoned, and to allow her to begin rebuilding her life, according to a news release issued by O’Connor.
Since her release, Mellen has been staying with her oldest daughter and son-in-law and their two children and sleeping on a sofa-sleeper in the living room of their small, two-bedroom apartment, according to O’Connor.
Mellen’s family waited about eight hours for her to be released from custody following the judge’s decision to overturn her conviction.
“I felt like I had a death sentence,” a breathless Mellen said when she finally walked out of the courthouse. “And God actually reversed my death sentence. I’m a free woman now.”
She said she never gave up hope when she was behind bars, and even wrote “Freedom” on the bottoms on her shoes “because I knew I was going to walk free one day.”
Patti — who died in 2006 — told authorities that Mellen had confessed to the killing, but her credibility came into question during a fresh review of the case, with her own sister — a Torrance police officer — even describing her as a liar.
Patti had thousands of contacts with police in Washington state, where she had relocated, and she came to be known to investigators as an unreliable witness.
In a letter submitted to the judge, Deputy District Attorney Loren Naiman wrote that an investigation into the case has determined that Patti’s testimony “incriminating Susan Mellen in the murder of Richard Daly is doubtful.” The prosecutor — who did not handle Mellen’s trial — had urged the judge to set aside her conviction and release her from custody.
— City News Service