Two men who spent years in state prison after being convicted of murder in separate cases were freed Friday following efforts spearheaded by two programs at Loyola Law School seeking their release.
Michael Tirpak, now 43, had been behind bars for nearly 25 years following his 1996 conviction for first-degree murder in the 1994 killing of David Falconer in Compton. Prosecutors said he was the getaway driver, but attorneys from the Loyola Project for the Innocent said evidence presented at his trial showed that Tirpak, then 18, was using a pay phone down the street at the time of the crime committed by two younger teens.
Tirpak told reporters outside the Twin Towers jail in downtown Los Angeles that he was “excited, happy, all at the same time,” and he had a message for young people: “Be careful who you associate with. Don’t get involved in gang life, and just stay focused and stay in school.”
Tirpak, who got married two years ago while behind bars, said he counseled younger inmates while in prison and hopes to do similar work now that he’s free.
“Since the time of his arrest, Michael has maintained that he had nothing to do with the crime. He didn’t plan it, he didn’t have knowledge it was going to take place, and he didn’t know the guys he was with that night were armed,” said Seth Hancock, a staff attorney for Loyola Project for the Innocent.
Tirpak was convicted under California’s felony murder rule, but his conviction was vacated last week as a result of a recent change in state law pertaining to some defendants who are convicted of murder but were not the actual killers.
“We began investigating Mr. Tirpak’s case in 2015, looking for credible new evidence that would affirmatively prove his innocence. But while LPI investigated the case, several laws went into effect that helped bring Michael home sooner, without requiring prolonged litigation as to his innocence,” said Adam Grant, the program’s director.
He noted that the new law permitted Tirpak to have his conviction vacated “given the lack of evidence that he played a role in the murder.”
It was not immediately clear whether a motion would be filed seeking to have a judge declare Tirpak factually innocent of the killing.
Also released Friday was Reggie DeAndre Mallard, who had been serving a 26-year-to-life prison sentence for the 2001 slaying of Christopher Nickerson in Carson.
Mallard — who was 16 at the time and is now 34 — has maintained that he is innocent, but agreed last week to accept an 11-year plea deal for voluntary manslaughter to avoid spending additional time behind bars, according to officials with the Juvenile Innocence and Fair Sentencing Clinic at Loyola Law School.
Student investigators at the clinic uncovered evidence that police had either failed to discover or failed to turn over, according to the clinic’s director, Chris Hawthorne.
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