During Tuesday’s board meeting, LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas presented a scroll to the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent (LPI) in honor of several recent exonerations secured by the group, which has analyzed more than 1,400 cases.
“The criminal justice system can only function if it is fair, just and protects the innocent,” Ridley-Thomas said. “Unfortunately, sometimes the system gets it wrong and it is often people of color who bear the brunt of these wrongful convictions.”
Since 2011, five of LPI’s clients have been released from prison. Together, the exonerees wrongfully served 121 years behind bars.
“We should never give up on securing justice, no matter how long it takes,” said Professor of Ethical Advocacy Laurie Levenson, who founded LPI. “Each person’s life is precious.”
In March 2017, Marco Contreras, a man wrongfully convicted of attempted murder and robbery in 1997, was released after serving two decades of a sentence of life plus seven years. Contreras, who had been inaccurately identified as the assailant by an eyewitness, was declared factually innocent. (KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has an excellent in-depth story detailing Contreras’ case and LPI’s work to free him.)
In another case, Jaime Ponce was sentenced to 47 years to life in prison on several charges, including conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder. Ponce was 19 years old when he was arrested in 1998. Loyola took on Ponce’s case in 2015, and in April, Los Angeles prosecutors agreed to release Ponce, who was undocumented, if the man returned to Mexico.
Another client, Andrew Leander Wilson, was locked up for 32 years for a stabbing in 1998. Wilson’s conviction was thrown out, and he was released in April, thanks to LPI.
The Project for the Innocent has a number of other cases currently in the court system.
“We believe there are several thousand wrongfully convicted innocent people in the prison system here,” said LPI Program Director Adam Grant.