The Los Angeles City Council approved a $12 million legal settlement Wednesday for a woman who spent 17 years behind bars for a murder she did not commit.
Susan Mellen filed a civil rights lawsuit against former LAPD Detective Marcella Winn after she was declared factually innocent and released in 2014 by a judge who said her conviction appeared to be based on the testimony of a “habitual liar.”
The South Bay woman was convicted in May 1998 and sentenced to life in prison for the killing of 30-year-old Richard Daly, a homeless man said to be Mellen’s then-boyfriend. His body was found in a San Pedro alley.
Mellen’s lawsuit chiefly blamed Winn, calling the detective “the architect of this injustice.”
According to a federal appellate panel that ruled in August 2018 in favor of the case going to trial, Mellen was convicted based solely on the testimony of June Patti, who claimed Mellen had confessed her involvement in the crime.
“Mellen’s evidence at summary judgment raises a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Detective Winn knew that June Patti was a liar, and failed to disclose material, exculpatory, evidence of that fact,” Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote for the panel. “Summary judgment should not have been granted on this record. Mellen should have the opportunity to prove, after nearly two decades, whether wrongful conduct played a role in her conviction, and whether she deserves compensation for her wrongful imprisonment.”
Winn, who is retired, could not be reached, and a spokesman for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a request to comment.
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 hundreds of contacts with police over the years, and she came to be known to investigators as an unreliable witness.
Mellen “was convicted because it was a titillating story that the district attorney ran with,” Mellen’s attorney, Deirdre L. O’Connor with Innocence Matters, said in 2014 when Mellen was released.
The settlement was approved by the City Council on an 11-0 vote.