A Los Angeles man who was serving a 15-year prison term after being convicted of armed robbery and other charges was declared factually innocent Tuesday.
“As I’ve said before, despite our best efforts, we don’t always get it right. But we must be willing, as prosecutors, to take action and correct mistakes when they occur as we did in this case,” Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said shortly after the ruling was made in Derrick Harris’ case.
The county’s top prosecutor noted that one of the two men who pointed a handgun at a customer and took a gold chain necklace from him at a fast-food restaurant in Watts disclosed that Harris was not involved in the July 1, 2013, robbery.
After receiving a factual innocence claim from the California Innocence Project on Harris’ behalf, the District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit discovered evidence that led to the identification of a new suspect who confessed that he had been involved in the armed robbery but could not be charged with the crime because the statute of limitations for had expired, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
“I am grateful to the man who told the truth, that Mr. Harris was not involved in this crime, which ignited our re-investigation of this case,” Lacey said.
The district attorney apologized to Harris and his family.
“Mr. Harris, I am sorry for the role my office played n your wrongful conviction, and I also want to apologize to the members of your family, who are here,” Lacey said, as Harris stood nearby with his son.
Harris, now 29, was convicted of one count each of second-degree robbery, possession of a firearm by a felon and disobeying a court order. He had served seven years in state prison before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan vacated his conviction, dismissed the case, permanently released him from prison and found him factually innocent of the crime.
According to the California Innocence Project, the victim had “misidentified” Harris after being shown a “highly suggestive” photo line-up. In a social media post, the CIP congratulated Harris on his “newfound freedom” and lauded Mike Semanchik, the California Innocence Project’s managing attorney, and his team for “ensuring his exoneration.”
“I just want to say Derrick’s case does have one of the things that we see most often in wrongful conviction cases and that’s an eyewitness misidentification. His case hinged on the victim’s eyewitness I.D., and we know that that is one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions,” Semanchik said shortly after the hearing, noting that the trial attorney who represented Harris during the trial had continued to investigate the case.
Harris said he was “blessed” to have his family supporting him, thankful that the California Innocence Project agreed to represent him and and is “just happy to be free.”
In addition to Harris’ conviction being overturned, the convictions of three other people have been vacated and another defendant’s sentence was reduced since the District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit was launched in 2015, according to the district attorney.