LOS ANGELES (CBSLA/AP) — A judge Monday cleared and released a man who served 19 years in prison for a 1993 murder after the star witness against him claimed police pressured him into lying.
John Smith, 37, was 18 years old when he was convicted of killing a man and assaulting another at the corner of 17th Street and Rimpau Boulevard in Los Angeles.
Smith admitted he was a gang member at the time, but always maintained he was at his grandmother’s house with family members when the shooting took place.
The only witness, Landu Mvuemba, was a victim who was shot and survived.
In 2010, Mvuemba met with Deirdre O’Connor of Innocence Matters, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing wrongful convictions.
She took up the case to exonerate Smith.
“I began investigating the case and the more I dug in, the more I was troubled by the case,” said O’Connor.
She said Mvuemba admitted to identifying Smith after police pressured him into doing so.
“Our letter to him was maybe one sentence saying, ‘We’d like to talk to you about the John Smith case.’ He replied saying, ‘Come on up.’ And we sat down, we hadn’t even gotten comfortable in the chair, and he recanted,” said O’Conner.
Mvuemba said police told him other witnesses had identified Smith as the shooter.
He also said he was shown a photo of his friend, DeAnthony Williams, who died in the shooting, and he said, “I felt a lot of pressure to go along with it.”
Mvuemba claimed he tried to tell authorities three times that he didn’t see enough to testify, but his pleas were ignored.
Smith was released just after 8 p.m. He said he’s looking forward to seeing his loved ones.
“It took long enough, but you know, I’m appreciative. And I look forward to tomorrow,” he said. “I’m not bitter at all, that’s not going to get me anywhere.”
Smith’s family was overcome with emotion at his release.
“I’m just happy I got my brother back,” said his sister, Tirena Goodman. “My grandma has been sick and she’s been holding on to see my brother.”
“I’m happy, I’m sad, but the part of me that was in (prison) with him…I’m free now, too,” said Smith’s grandmother, Laura Neal. “I’m glad he’s out because I always knew he didn’t do it, but I was always hoping and praying that before I die, he will be with me again.”
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