LA Supervisors Honor Loyola Project for the Innocent

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

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.

1 Comment

  • RE: Request for Assistance. Case Jorge Armando Covarrubias. A Gross Miscarriage of Justice.

    How Are Efficient American Courts?

    This is a case of injustice and a gross miscarriage of justice of 17 years in the making.

    My brother Jorge Armando Covarrubias, CDCR T23089, was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 30 years to life under the terms of an unknowing and involuntary plea bargain.

    He was arrested and booked on October 08, 2000 by Assault with a Deadly Weapon California PC 245 (A) (1). Court records clearly shows that during a court hearing at the Downey, California Court, Jorge declined a plea bargain of 12 years while being represented by the Los Angeles Public Defender Craig Purcell and assisted by the court interpreter Lucia Daley. However few days later at the Superior Court of Norwalk California, while being represented by Jon A. Divens, SB 145549, (DISBARRED), and assisted by the court interpreter Cecilia Alcaraz, he supposedly agree to enter into a plea deal of 30 years to life.

    Jorge’s conviction and sentence was obtained by fraud and duress. Because the court’s proceedings prior to the “Plea hearing”, during the “Plea Hearing” and “Sentencing hearing” were inaccurately translated by the court interpreter Alcaraz and for the benefit of my brother.

    Jorge was convicted and sentenced by the Hon. John Torribio, under the terms of an unknowing, unintelligent and involuntary plea agreement for the charges of Second Degree Attempted Murder PC664/187 (5 years) plus the gun enhancement, 12022.53 (d)(25 years too life). Total= 30 years to life.
    Jon A. Divens SB 145549, my brother’s trial counsel just admitted he used my brother’s inability to understand English to improperly advised him to enter into a plea bargain of 30 years to life, for a crime he did NOT commit.

    The Honorable Lillian Vega Jacobs, former District Attorney who prosecuted the case presented an affidavit stating that she observed my brother hesitant and reluctant to enter into a plea of guilty, and that she did not believe that Jorge would accept such plea, because that is not a plea at all.

    We have tried unsuccessfuly for 17 years to prove the truth and we don’t know what else to do. All our atempts to show the truth have been denied by the courts due to the statute of time limitations.

    My brother attests that the court intérpreter Cecilia Alcaraz never explained to him the truth in Spanish about court proceedings nor about such plea bargain. He was unable to understand because at that time he was complete iliterate un writing and speaking english.

    At this time we are trying to obtain a declaration from the Court intérpreter, but we have no concrete answer from her. She is afraid of something.

    In the last conversation I had with her, she informed me that the Los Angeles’ County District Attorney Office told her to avoid problems, “Keep her mouth shut,” and not to answer my emails or phone calls. However, we continúe with our figth to show the honest truth.

    The truth IS that my brother’s language inability was used against him, and his Sixth, Fourteenth and Due Process rights were violated.

    It is well known that all the aforementioned rights are protected by the California’s and United States’ constitutions. Therefore, all citizens and foreign citizens should be protected by both constitutions.

    Jorge told me that all he wants is to show the truth, that he is innocent of the charges, that he did not sign nor agree to accept such plea bargain, and to be deported to México.

    We have proof, tangible evidence to show the truth.

    My brother’s case:
    People of California vs Jorge Armando Covarrubias. Superior Court of California, for the County of Los Ángeles. Norwalk Court. Case # VA-061911.

    Please follow the links to see the proof of my brother’s gross miscarriage of justice.

    We will really appreciate your assistance.

    Thank you for your time.

    José Covarrubias

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