LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — The Los Angeles City Council agreed today to pay a total of $24.3 million to settle a pair of wrongful conviction cases filed by two men who each served more than two dozen years in prison for murders they did not commit.
The council voted in favor of paying $16.7 million to resolve a lawsuit filed by Kash Delano Register, who spent 34 and-a-half years behind bars after he was arrested at age 18 and wrongly convicted of killing a man in West Los Angeles.
Register’s conviction was overturned in 2013 — with prosecutors dropping charges against him — after his attorneys argued that testimony in his favor had been withheld and there was no credible physical evidence against him.
Also approved by the council was a $7.6 million payout to Bruce Lisker, who served 26 years in prison for the murder of his mother. Lisker’s conviction was overturned and he was released from jail in 2009 after a judge decided prosecutors had presented false evidence.
Following their exonerations and release, both Register and Lisker filed lawsuits against the city of Los Angeles and police officials, seeking damages for their wrongful convictions.
“Courts freed these two men after concluding they were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for decades,” said Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office. ” Today’s action helps make amends for the many years these men will never get back, and for lives that will never be the same.”
Councilman Paul Krekorian said he agreed to the settlement amounts because it would have cost more had the cases gone to trial.
“We believe that it saves the taxpayers money, but it’s also the right thing to do, given the circumstances,” he said.
Krekorian also said the convictions occurred decades ago and he believes that they do not reflect how the Los Angeles Police Department currently operates.
Register had been convicted of the April 6, 1979, shooting death of 79-year-old Jack Sasson in West Los Angeles. A key witness in the case, Brenda Anderson, testified that she saw Register at the crime scene. Register was found guilty despite claims by his girlfriend that she was with him at the time.
Anderson’s sister, Sharon, testified at a court hearing in 2013 that her sibling had lied. According to attorneys for the Project for the Innocent, another Anderson sister tried to tell police investigating the shooting in 1979 that Brenda had lied to authorities, but the claim was never presented to Register’s defense attorney.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Katherine Mader ruled that the prosecution had failed to disclose exculpatory evidence and used false testimony at Register’s trial. That ruling cleared the way for the then-53-year-old Register’s release in 2013.
Register said in a statement today that he “can’t get these 34 years back, but I hope my case can help make things better for others, through improving the way the police get identifications or other reforms.”
Register’s New York-based attorney, Nick Brustin, said he is “hopeful that Los Angeles will build on this settlement by adopting reforms to their eyewitness identification procedures.”
“This case should also be a lesson to Los Angeles and other cities to take a hard look at other cases where inmates proclaim their innocence, even where, as here, there was no remaining physical evidence to do testing like DNA,” he said.
Kevin LaHue, a Los Angeles-based attorney who also represents Register, said his client had gone to a job interview the day before he was arrested at the age of 18.
After his release from prison more than three decades later, Register landed a job at Costco and was recently named “employee of the year,” LaHue said.
In addition to financial losses, Register has a daughter and “obviously missed out on a lot of her life,” and is “close with his mother,” LaHue said.
Laurie Levenson of Loyola Law School’s Project for the Innocent, who successfully proved Register’s innocence in 2013, told City News Service that 34 and-a-half years is “one of the longest” terms she has seen anyone spend in prison before being exonerated.
Levenson said she thinks the settlement “will change (Register’s) life.”
“Perhaps he won’t have to work the evening and weekend shifts, now that he’s in his mid-50s; perhaps his mother, who is in her 80s, won’t have to work multiple jobs; and perhaps they can move out of their very small apartment into their own home,” Levenson said.
Lisker was convicted in 1985 of second-degree murder and sentenced to 16 years to life in prison for the death of his 66-year-old mother, Dorka, who was found stabbed and beaten to death in their Sherman Oaks home in 1983, when he was 17 years old.
A Los Angeles Times investigation in 2005 called into question much of the evidence in Lisker’s trial, and his conviction was overturned in August 2009 by a federal judge in Riverside, who ruled that false evidence had been used and that Lisker had inadequate legal representation.
Lisker was released from prison in 2009 after U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips voided his conviction, and the state dropped charges against him.
In 2010, Lisker sued former Los Angeles police detectives Andrew Monsue and Howard Landgre, and the city of Los Angeles, alleging his civil rights were violated by the detectives.
In March, a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena said although police officers cannot be sued in connection with their court testimony, they can be sued for “unlawful actions” during an investigation.
The panel affirmed a lower court’s ruling denying absolute immunity to the detectives, setting the stage for trial.