A woman exonerated last year after spending 17 years behind bars for murder announced Thursday that she had filed a lawsuit accusing an LAPD detective of hiding evidence that showed the case’s lead witness was known as a pathological liar.
Susan Mellen was released in October when a judge ruled that she had received “subpar representation” from a trial attorney who failed to adequately investigate the witness’ credibility. The judge later declared Mellen factually innocent of the killing.
The federal lawsuit alleges that Los Angeles Police Department Det. Marcella Winn suppressed evidence from Mellen’s attorneys that would have damaged the credibility of the trial’s star witness, knowingly used false evidence and ignored leads that pointed to another suspect.
Mellen, speaking at a news conference outside the Torrance courthouse where she was originally convicted, said the detective’s actions robbed her of being a mother to her children for 17 years.
“There’s no amount of money in the universe that can give me back what I lost with my family and my children, the pain and suffering,” she said. “I just want to live my life again.”
Winn did not immediately return a call Thursday seeking comment.
In 1998, Mellen was found guilty of the murder of Richard Daly, a 30-year-old transient and father of two. She was sentenced to life in prison.
The murder conviction was thrown out in 2014 after a judge found that the trial hinged on the testimony of June Patti, who was known to be a “habitual liar” and claimed Mellen had confessed her involvement in the crime.
Jurors never learned that Patti’s sister, a Torrance police officer, believed that she was a pathological liar and that the Torrance Police Department had previously deemed Patti an unreliable informant.
The lawsuit alleges that Winn knew Patti was not a reliable witness and withheld information from the defense that would have damaged Patti’s credibility.
The lawsuit also alleges that Winn ignored information that a local gang member was involved in the crime, instead persuading prosecutors to focus solely on Mellen with the help of Patti’s statement. Also named in the lawsuit is Det. Richard Hoffman, who was Winn’s supervisor at the time.
Attorney Deirdre O’Connor, who represents Mellen, said Winn ignored leads in her zeal to close the case.
“It was expedient of Det. Winn to take June Patti’s statement and run with it, O’Connor said. “She opted for the more titillating story in her mind.”
Winn was also the lead detective in the prosecution of Obie Anthony, who was declared factually innocent after spending 17 years behind bars for a killing outside a brothel in South Los Angeles.
Last month, the city agreed to pay Anthony $8.3 million to settle a lawsuit related to the case.
Anthony’s co-defendant in the case, Reggie Cole, whose conviction was also thrown out, has a lawsuit pending against the city.
A spokesman with city attorney’s office declined to comment, saying officials have not yet reviewed the lawsuit.
Mellen said she is adjusting to life outside prison and struggles to comprehend the detective’s actions in her case.
“It’s devastating,” she said. “I don’t understand how she could have done that when I kept telling her that I was innocent. She just wouldn’t listen to me.”
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