L.A. County D.A. Jackie Lacey to unveil details on wrongful-conviction unit

L.A. County will join a small but growing number of prosecution offices to create a wrongful-conviction unit

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey will unveil details Monday about the creation of a unit dedicated to reviewing the integrity of convictions for people behind bars for serious or violent crimes.

In putting together such a team of veteran prosecutors, the county D.A.'s office is joining a small but growing number of prosecutorial agencies around the country devoting resources to identifying innocent prisoners.

The Times reported in April that Lacey had asked the Board of Supervisors for nearly $1 million to fund the new team, which would include three prosecutors, a senior investigator and a paralegal.

In seeking the funds, Lacey’s office said it wanted to keep up with an increasing number of wrongful-conviction claims that have followed the advent of similar units around the country, a growing number of innocence projects and heightened publicity surrounding innocence claims, a county spokesman said.

Innocence project groups and others said the move would send a dramatic statement that the office is serious about reversing injustices and could spur the creation of similar units in smaller counties in California.

Although such units are still rare, Los Angeles would join more than 15 district attorney offices nationwide that have created such teams, including Dallas County, Brooklyn and Manhattan, N.Y., as well as the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, D.C. In California, district attorneys in Santa Clara, Ventura and Yolo counties have established similar units.

The proposal comes after a string of high-profile wrongful convictions.

Earlier this year, the city of Los Angeles agreed to pay more than $8 million to Obie Anthony, who was declared factually innocent after spending 17 years behind bars for a killing outside a brothel in South Los Angeles.

In October, a judge threw out the murder conviction of Susan Mellen, saying that she was wrongfully imprisoned for 17 years based on the word of a habitual liar and adding that “the criminal justice system failed.”

In 2013, another judge threw out Kash Delano Register’s conviction in the 1979 slaying of an elderly man in West Los Angeles.

All three cases were brought to court by innocence projects. In Mellen’s case, the district attorney’s office agreed to her release after its habeas corpus litigation team, which often opposes legal requests to throw out convictions, conducted an investigation.

For more news on Los Angeles County's criminal courts, follow @marisagerber.

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