LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — A man wrongfully convicted in 2008 for a series of armed robberies in Boyle Heights has been released from prison and declared factually innocent of the crimes.
A claim sent to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit set the wheels in motion for prosecutors and investigators to unearth new evidence that led to the exoneration of 49-year-old Ruben Martinez Jr.
“This case — brought to our attention by an inmate who was not represented by an attorney — is a powerful example of why we need dedicated conviction review units,” District Attorney Jackie Lacey said.
“Although the vast majority of convictions are correctly upheld, I knew that, at times, the pursuit of justice is not perfect,” she continued. “And Mr. Martinez’s case serves as a stark reminder to all of us: Despite our best efforts, we don’t always get it right.”
At a hearing Tuesday, L.A. County Superior Court Judge William Ryan vacated Martinez’s conviction, permanently released him from prison, dismissed his case with prejudice and found him factually innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted.
The D.A.’s Office not only lost faith in his conviction but also was convinced Mr. Martinez is, in fact, innocent of the crimes.
Martinez became a suspect in a string of unsolved armed robberies that took place between December 2005 and May 2007 at the same auto body shop in Boyle Heights.
Bearing a striking resemblance to the perpetrator, eyewitnesses identified him as the assailant and, at trial, his alibis were not fully presented, leaving the 12-person jury convinced of his guilt, according to the D.A.
Jurors convicted Martinez of nine counts of second-degree robbery in a retrial. The first trial ended with the jury voting 9-3 in favor of a guilty verdict.
He was sentenced to 47 years and eight months in state prison.
Martinez, however, remained resolute in his innocence.
Over the years, he had sought his freedom through a series of appeals, but those claims were denied.
After learning of the formation of the Conviction Review Unit, he and his wife, Maria, contacted the D.A.’s Office with claims of his innocence based on alibis that were not fully explored at the time of his trial. They said he was at work when two of the crimes were committed.
With Martinez’s claim in hand, deputy district attorneys assigned to the unit closely examined the evidence and found that there was, in fact, merit to the claim.
District Attorney investigators then undertook the task of essentially re-opening the investigation. They painstakingly tracked down witnesses and uncovered employment records and paystubs that confirmed Martinez could not have committed two of the robberies that were clearly the work of the same serial robber.
On Nov. 1, Deputy District Attorney Andrea Bouas asked the court to release Martinez from custody on his own recognizance. He was released the following Tuesday.
“When I envisioned this unit, my hope was to make the conviction review process available not only to attorneys or innocence projects but also to the inmates themselves,” Lacey said.
Martinez’s case marks the first time an inmate who was not represented by an attorney has been exonerated in L.A. County using this conviction review process.
Lacey established the office’s first Conviction Review Unit in 2015.
This is the third conviction that has been vacated since the unit was established; one sentence was reduced. At the time of this report, there were 45 pending claims in various stages of the review process.