On March 16, 2017, Andrew Wilson was released from the Los Angeles County jail after a team of attorneys from the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent persuaded an LA judge to toss out the murder conviction that kept Wilson in prison for 32 years of his life.
“I think this is justice,” Superior Court Judge Laura F. Priver said to those in the courtroom, when she ordered Wilson to be released.
A little over a year later, on Sunday, July 1, a new team of attorneys for Wilson—made up of Ron Kaye, Barrett Litt, and Kevin LaHue—filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Wilson’s civil rights had been violated by the county and city of Los Angeles, plus one particular LAPD detective, in a great many disturbing ways.
Yet, one thing that is especially interesting about Wilson’s lawsuit is the fact that it not only points to alleged police and prosecutorial wrong doing against Mr. Wilson, it also alleges that what was done to Wilson in the course of his arrest and trial was not a one-time set of mistakes. Instead, according to the 75-page federal complaint, the actions are representative of a pattern and practice of behavior both on the part of the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office.
The primary witness
Before we dive into the new allegations in Sunday’s lawsuit, however, it helps to know the basics of what happened nearly 33 years ago.
In 1984, at the age of 29, Andrew Wilson was arrested and charged with the robbery and murder of Christopher Hanson, a crime that Wilson has always insisted that he did not commit.
Chris Hanson was stabbed on the evening of October 23, 1984, while he slept in his parked car with his 17-year-old girlfriend, Saladena Bishop. The car was parked in front of a house at 2249 Hobart Blvd, a residential area between Western and Normandie Boulevards, in the West Adams district, south of the 10 Freeway.
Hanson, who was 21, suffered from Von Willebrand’s disease, a blood disorder that prevented his blood from clotting. As a consequence, stab wounds that were injurious, but unlikely to be fatal on most people, caused Hanson to bleed out before the paramedics could arrive to try to save him.
On the night of the murder, Hanson’s girlfriend, Saladena Bishop, was transported to an LAPD station where she was interviewed by LAPD Detective Richard Marks . While she was waiting to be interviewed, the girl reportedly became so combative with officers that they handcuffed her.
When interviewed by Detective Marks, Bishop said that there had been two assailants, one on the driver’s side of the car, one on the passengers side. One punched Hanson and stole his wallet and more. The other man, on the driver’s side, according to Bishop, stabbed the sleeping Hanson.
She described both men briefly, along with their clothes. Neither description matched that of Williams, who reportedly had two strongly distinguishing characteristics in those years. He had a gold tooth at the front of his mouth, which was engraved with a cloverleaf. He also had a very noticeable patch of white hair that was approximately the size of a silver dollar, and was situated just above where his hairline ended and his forehead began.
That same first night, Marks gave Bishop some “mug books” to look through, at least one of which contained a photograph of Andy Wilson.
That night, Bishop did not pick out Wilson as resembling either of the men she said she’d seen, or as being one of the assailants she had described.
She also did not mention that she knew Wilson very well, and that she used to babysit often for Wilson’s daughter, Catrina, when she was Bishop was 14-years-old. She even lived with Wilson and his wife and daughter for a short period, when she moved out of her parents’ home.
Bishop did, however, pick out four photos of another man during that first session with the mug shots. Bishop said she was “almost certain” this man was the person who had the knife. The man she picked, a guy named Johnny McBride, had been locked up at the time of the murder, so obviously couldn’t have been the killer.
So much for that I.D.
A little help with suspect identification
Marks brought Bishop back again the next day, and gave her a new pile of photos to go through, which again contained Wilson. Again, Bishop failed to pick him or point him out in any way.
Over subsequent days, Marks took Bishop on ride-alongs through the neighborhood hoping she would see someone she recognized. Bishop picked out one guy who was sitting on a bench, but recanted the identification once she saw him close-up. After the ride-alongs, Bishop helped in the creation of a composite sketch of the murderer. None of it worked.
Finally, on November 29, 1984, approximately six weeks after the Hanson murder, Marks showed Bishop a 16-photo lineup that included photos of Wilson and his closest friend, Frederick Terrell.
Marks knew Wilson and Terrell and, according to Wilson, often gave them a hard time when he saw them, once yanking the watch off Wilson’s arm and the necklace from Terrell’s neck, throwing both pieces of jewelry in the sewer, after suggesting wrongly, Wilson said, that the two had stolen the items.
Marks admitted decades later, that he did not pick men for the photo line up who bore any resemblance to the physical descriptions of the murder suspects that Bishop had given the night of the murder, never mind that in failing to do so, he reportedly violated the Los Angeles Police Department’s “proper and long-established photo spread and lineup procedure.”
Instead, the 18-person photo line-up that Marks showed Bishop included Wilson’s photo, and “many photographs of people Bishop had already eliminated or seen before and not picked out,” according to the complaint.
Still, Bishop didn’t pick Wilson as the driver’s side “stabber.”
So, at that point, Marks reportedly helped her.
He “directed” Bishop’s attention to Wilson’s photo (as Marks’ put it in an interview decades later), after which time she finally identified Wilson, according to Marks, “with 80 percent certainty,” as the assailant with the knife on the driver’s side of the vehicle, even though she’d seen his photo multiple times earlier, and not picked him. And even though she had likely noticed him on the earlier occasions, since she’d known him from her early teenage years.
It was Bishop’s identification that was the primary evidence that convicted Wilson. Although there were two palm prints recovered from the car, Wilson’s prints reportedly didn’t match them. Nor was there any of his DNA recovered from the scene. In fact, there was reportedly no physical evidence whatsoever that tied Wilson to the murder.
Pressuring a witness
Before Bishop made her identification, another possible witness surfaced.
This new witness emerged when Hanson’s dad, Arthur Hanson, who it seems was conducting his own investigation of his son’s murder, contacted Detective Marks and told him he had located a potential witness who might have seen a man who resembled Andy Wilson in the neighborhood the night his son was killed.
Marks interviewed the man, Clarence Pace, who described two men he saw in the area just after the murder, one of whom he said looked like Andy Wilson. But he told Marks he “was not sure at all” that Wilson was the person he saw. It was that the man looked something like Wilson. Furthermore, the man Pace described was wearing clothing that did not match the clothing descriptions of the murderer that Bishop provided to police. Pace described the guy who looked like Wilson as wearing a black leather jacket and a hat, which Bishop reportedly stated was definitely not what the attacker with the knife was wearing at all.
Marks knew that Wilson often hung out with a friend named Frederick Terrell. But, Pace “definitively excluded” Terrell as being one of the two men he said he’d seen.
In a subsequent interview with Laura Aalto, the assistant district attorney who was prosecuting the case, Pace reportedly said that Marks had “pushed him hard” to identify Terrell as being one of the men he saw. But Pace declined to do so.
Pace later said he felt that he was being pressured to testify against Wilson and Terrell. By the time he got to trial, Marks allegedly told Pace, according to the complaint, that he, Marks, could make things rough for Pace if he didn’t come forward and say “the right things” in the case against Wilson. Nevertheless, at trial, Pace said he wasn’t sure of his ID of Wilson at all, that the people ran by quickly, and he saw them for a few seconds.
Decades later, Wilson’s attorneys would learn that there were other problems with Pace’s account that, when included, made it all but impossible for him to have seen the two men after the murder, moving quickly away from the site of the crime. When Pace’s full story emerged, it reportedly suggested instead that, whoever he saw that night, he had actually seen before or during the attack, .3 miles away from the site of the killing, and moving away from it. If true, the two could not be suspects.
Nevertheless, on November 29, 1984, nine days after the Pace interview, Marks decided to bring Bishop in again and create that a 18-photo line-up for her, which included Wilson and his friend Terrell.
This time when Bishop went through the new group of 18 photos, she identified Terrell as the possible passenger side assailant, but ignored Wilson—until Marks started nudging.
After Marks arrested both men. Wilson, telling Marks he was innocent, agreed to be interviewed without a lawyer. The DA would eventually drop the charges against Terrell for lack of evidence. But Wilson went to trial where, after deliberating for three days, on November 12, 1986, the jury returned verdicts finding Wilson guilty of first-degree murder and robbery, with a special circumstance weapon allegation.
Bishop was, as expected, the trial’s star witness.
What the defense didn’t know
When the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent heard about Wilson’s case in 2014, and began to consider taking it on, one of the interviews they conducted was a lengthy conversation with Detective Marks. In that interview Marks reportedly told them several astonishing things. According to the Loyola team’s legal filings, he said that he generally made a point of directing witnesses to identify suspects, and had done it many times throughout his career. And he also reportedly said he made a habit of filing the photo line-ups with photos that suited his purposes, or words to that effect, regardless of the witness’s description of the suspect or suspects.
There were other crucial elements that, according Wilson’s attorneys, that Marks and/or Deputy District Attorney Aalto, the prosecutor in the case, failed to disclose to the defense, thus violating Wilson’s right to be given all exculpatory evidence and information as required by the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Brady v. Maryland.
Detective Marks, for example, did not tell Deputy District Attorney Aalto until after the trial that his partner on the Wilson case, LAPD Detective Bunch, who was also the senior detective of the two, did not believe in the Wilson prosecution because he never believed in Bishop‘s ID of Wilson to be credible. And Bishop’s identification was, of course, the thin nail on which the whole case hung.
The defense never heard about Bunch’s distrust of Bishop at all.
Marks also never disclosed that the LAPD provided Bishop with a $1,000 payment prior to trial.
It turned out that Marks submitted a confidential “Witness Protection Assistance Request” for $1000 in funds for Bishop to cover a period of six months, which neither prosecutor Aalto, nor Wilson’s defense attorney, knew about prior to trial. The internal LAPD document, which stated that Marks was “unsure” as to Bishop’s willingness to testify without being provided assistance, was never disclosed until the habeas proceedings in 2016.
(Bishop was, at the time of the trial, reportedly not getting along with her housemates.)
A previous stabbing
Another potentially important piece of information not disclosed to the defense was the fact that a few months before Hanson’s murder, Bishop filed an accusation of rape and assault against another man, an accusation which was determined by authorities to be fabricated. Both the investigating officer and the district attorney’s office found Bishop’s account not to be credible, and to be contradicted by known facts.
Detective Tom Purington, “says she’s a liar.” DDA Aalto reportedly wrote in her notes. “I believe he’s right in his judgment re his case.”
But the defense never knew anything about this reportedly false accusation by Bishop.
In addition, the defense reported didn’t know that, before the trial, Earl Martin, who was the best friend of the victim, according to the Wilson complaint, contacted DDA Aalto and reported a number of “highly exculpatory” pieces of information to her.
Hanson’s friend Martin said that Bishop, who had lived for a period with Martin and his girlfriend, was very emotionally volatile, often depressed, and most relevant to the case, had previously attacked Hanson with a knife, injuring him, possibly while high on PCP, Martin said.
Martin said that, on another occasion, Bishop got into an argument with his girlfriend, Natalie Williams, and hit Williams in the face.
Finally, a week and a half before Hanson died, according to Martin, Bishop again reportedly took an argument into the physical realm and lunged at Hanson, according to Martin, causing Hanson to hurt his knee badly enough that he was wearing a knee brace, and using crutches to walk, at the time of his death.
Martin said he was worried enough that he had forcefully cautioned Hanson about Bishop.
“What do you do if she attacks you with a knife again?” he told Aalta that he’d asked his friend.
Martin said that he felt Bishop “was involved in it, or she actually did it [Hanson’s murder],” but then panicked.
Martin also requested to view the murder weapon, which was recovered at the scene, because he said he had a box of tools and the knife in the box was missing.
But the defense never knew any of this, according to the complaint. Thus, the jury didn’t either.
Luck brings lawyers to an innocence claim
Although Wilson and his mother spent years researching the case and writing everyone they could think of, from Governor Gray Davis, to state lawmakers, to the LA Police Commission, and many, many others, all in the hope of finding a legal champion to take on Wilson’s cause. But mother and son couldn’t get anyone to pay attention.
Then in 2012, when Wilson, who had become something of a prison lawyer, was helping a fellow inmate, Horace Burns, with his legal work, he learned that Burns’ attorney had obtained discovery that showed the $1,000 payment made by the LAPD to Bishop in connection with Wilson’s case.
Two years after that, in 2014, the Loyola Innocence attorneys learned of Wilson’s case, purely by accident when a federal public defender ran across the case when working on their own unrelated case, Tizeno v. Janda, during which time the feds became convinced that, in relationship to their client, Detective Marks had coerced a witness into falsely identifying a suspect. In researching further, to see if this sort of thing was a pattern with Marks, they ran across Wilson’s case, and his various appeals. As part of their research, the fed lawyers decided out to interview Wilson. After the interview, the main public defender called Loyola’s Project for the Innocent.
“You should go talk to this guy,” the fed PD said.
And so they did.
Two years later, on August 1, 2016, the Loyola team filed an amended petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus alleging multiple due process violations, and that Wilson was actually innocent.
On March 8, 2017, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office wrote a letter to Judge Laura F. Priver conceding that cumulative errors during pretrial and trial proceedings deprived Mr. Wilson of his constitutional right to a fundamentally fair trial. The DA’s office also stated its intention not to retry Wilson after his convictions were vacated.
Thus Wilson was released from custody on March 16, 2017.
During the habeas litigation the Loyola team and the members of the District Attorney’s Office interviewed Marks.
It was during this interview that Marks admitted that, throughout his career as an LAPD detective, he had routinely coached witnesses as they viewed photo line-ups. Marks said he would direct their attention to certain suspects and then ask the witness to comment regarding why that suspect was not the perpetrator—even though he knew it was improper to do so.
As they continued to pull the case apart, the Loyola group reportedly found many other troubling elements, large and small, such as the fact that Bishop described physical details about Wilson at the preliminary hearing that she’d never mentioned to anyone prior to that, a shift that the Loyola lawyers thought suggested coaching, likely by Marks.
“We do a really thorough investigation,” said Loyola’s Paula Mitchell, “and based on what we saw in our review, we saw there wasn’t much except that one eyewitness.”
And she wasn’t credible.
After that, the more the Loyola team dug, the more they reportedly found that had been withheld.
“Pattern and practice”
The last third of the Wilson complaint filed Sunday by Ron Kaye and company, is devoted to the very detailed claim alleging that both the Los Angeles Police Department, through Detective Marks and others, and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, had—and still have— a habit of suppressing and falsifying evidence, in the case of the LAPD, and failing to turn over Brady material, in the case of the DA’s office.
To make sure the point is made, the complaint cites a list of examples, including the 1979 case of Kash Register, in the course of which, the complaint states, “members of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office suppressed exculpatory evidence and relied on false testimony to convict” Register of a “murder he did not commit.” Registor, who was 18 at the time of his conviction, spent 34 years in prison, before his case was overturned and he was released.
The list includes other LA cases in which the those convicted spent 10, 20, 25 and 35 years in prison before their convictions were overturned or vacated.
When talking about what he believes to be most important about the case filed on Sunday, Kaye points first to Williams himself.
Andy Williams “had 32 years of his life stolen from him,” Kaye said.
“He was precluded from enjoying the things we take for granted—raising a child, watching his mother grown old, having a job, and being able to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. He has no way of recouping that. Life is finite. But he should have compensation.”
The second reason the case is important, according to Kaye, is that it demonstrates problems in LA law enforcement, and in the DA’s office that he said still exist.
There are people in Los Angeles County right now, said Kaye, “who are being deprived of exculpatory evidence, and who are victims of manipulation of witnesses.” This is one of the purposes of the case, he said, to bring these issues fully into the open.
What happened to Andrew Willson “is not only wrong on a moral level, it’s wrong on a fiscal level,” said Kaye, because the fiscal “repercussions for this county are going to be severe.”
And two institutions, Kay said, meaning the LAPD and the DA’s office, “allowed this to happen on a systemic level.”
When asked if the sort of thing that helped to convict Andrew Wilson, is still happening, Kaye ticked off some other very recent cases.
According to Kaye and his partners, Andy Wilson’s case “is the poster child case” pointing to a “radical failure to disclose exculpatory evidence” and to manipulate witnesses.
So it’s the “ideal case,” he said, “to carry the message that these systems need to be changed.”
WitnessLA reached out to the DA’s office for a comment on the newly filed case. And while they kindly got back to us very quickly, they said they “do not comment on pending litigation.”
Post Script Update:
Photo of Wilson and family after his release, courtesy of the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent