After 7 years in jail, Los Angeles man declared factually innocent of armed robbery

Derrick Harris raises his arms outside the Hall of Justice in Los Angeles.
“Free at last,” shouts Derrick Harris n front of the Hall of Justice in Los Angeles on Oct. 6, 2020 shortly after his wrongful conviction was overturned.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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.

Attorney Mike Semanchik and Derrick Harris in a courtroom.
Attorney Mike Semanchik of the California Innocence Project and Derrick Harris in court.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Derrick Harris
Derrick Harris reacts as his wrongful conviction is overturned.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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.

Derrick Harris walks out of a court building with his son Derrick Jr., 9.
Derrick Harris walks to freedom with his son Derrick Jr., 9, after his wrongful conviction was overturned at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

“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.

Derrick Harris and his family
Derrick Harris, in blue suit, walks out of the Hall of Justice with his family after a news conference.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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.

Advertisement

Derrick Harris walks with his son Derrick Jr.
Derrick Harris walks with Derrick Jr. to the Hall of Justice after his wrongful conviction was overturned.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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.”

Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey with Derrick Harris and son Derrick Jr.
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey apologizes to Derrick Harris and Derrick Jr.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Derrick Harris looks at Derrick Jr.
Derrick Harris and Derrick Jr.
(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)