A Los Angeles man who was serving a 15-year prison term after being convicted of armed robbery and other charges was declared factually innocent Tuesday.
“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,” Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey said shortly after the ruling was made in Derrick Harris’ case.
The county’s top prosecutor noted that one of the two men who pointed a handgun at a customer and took a gold chain necklace from him at a fast-food restaurant in Watts disclosed that Harris was not involved in the July 1, 2013, robbery.
After receiving a factual innocence claim from the California Innocence Project on Harris’ behalf, the district attorney’s Conviction Review Unit discovered evidence that led to the identification of a new suspect who confessed that he had been involved in the armed robbery but could not be charged with the crime because the statute of limitations had expired, according to the district attorney’s office.
“I am grateful to the man who told the truth, that Mr. Harris was not involved in this crime, which ignited our investigation of this case,” Lacey said.
Harris, now 29, was convicted of one count each of second-degree robbery, possession of a firearm by a felon and disobeying a court order. He had served seven years in state prison before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan vacated his conviction, dismissed the case, permanently released him from prison and found him factually innocent of the crime.
According to the California Innocence Project, the victim had misidentified Harris after being shown a “highly suggestive” photo lineup. In a social media post, the group congratulated Harris on his “newfound freedom” and lauded Mike Semanchik, the California Innocence Project’s managing attorney, and his team for “ensuring his exoneration.”
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