Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, October 7, 2020


Page 1


Man Freed After Seven Years in Prison for Second-Degree Robbery He Didn’t Commit

Judge Ryan, Acting at Request of District Attorney’s Office, Declares Him Factually Innocent


By a MetNews Staff Writer


Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan, acting at the behest of the Office of District Attorney, yesterday proclaimed a man factually innocent of the 2013 robbery for which he was convicted and sentenced to prison, and ordered his immediate release.

The man, Derrick Harris, walked out of Ryan’s courtroom, with his arm on the shoulder of his son, 9.

District Attorney Jackie Lacey commented:

“This case underscores the important ethical duty of every prosecutor to continue to seek justice, even if it requires us to admit that a mistake was made. I am grateful to the man who told the truth, that Mr. Harris was not involved in this crime, which ignited our reinvestigation of this case.”

Co-Defendant’s Declaration

Telling the truth was Desmen Mixon, Harris’ co-defendant. He executed a declaration under penalty of perjury exonerating Harris, sending it to Los Angeles Public Defender Elizabeth Warner-Sterkenburg, who represented Harris at trial.

Testifying against Harris at trial was the victim of an armed robbery at a fast-food restaurant in Watts. He identified Harris as one of the two men who, at gunpoint, took his gold chain necklace.

Harris was convicted of one count each of second-degree robbery, possession of a firearm by a felon and disobeying a court order and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

On May 8, 2020, the California Innocence Project—based at California Western School of Law in San Diego—presented to Lacey’s Conviction Review Unit, established by the district attorney in 2015, a claim that Harris is factually innocent. It investigated, and concluded an injustice had been done.

The new evidence that emerged included an admission by the actual co-conspirator.

Prosecution Stipulates

The District Attorney’s Office and the California Innocence Project entered into a stipulation, which came before Ryan.

Cal Western Law Professor Justin Brooks, director of the California Innocence Project, remarked:

 “This is the way exonerations should happen. Defense attorneys and prosecutors working together to fix mistakes from the past. My thanks go out to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office Conviction Review Unit.”

Michael Semanchik, the projects managing attorney, noted that Harris’s case was taken on in 2019. He said:

“The Project initially became interested in the case because the only evidence against Harris was a single eyewitness identification. Eyewitness misidentifications are one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions.

“Moreover, thanks to the post-conviction investigation by Harris’ trial attorney, we also knew the true perpetrators had implicated themselves and exculpated Harris in the years following the conviction.”

Lacey’s unit has received more than 1,960 claims of wrongful convictions. As the result of its investigations, four convictions were vacated and one sentence was reduced.

At present, 55 claims are in the review process.

The California Innocence Project receives about 1,500 claims of innocence each year and its efforts have resulted in the release of 34 inmates since the project was launched in 1999.


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