California Governor Gavin Newsom late last week granted clemency to four California Innocence Project (CIP) clients: JoAnn Parks, Suzanne Johnson, Rodney McNeal, and David Jassy. CIP is a clinical program of California Western School of Law.
Two of the clients, Johnson and Jassy, are expected to be released immediately. The others will be released following parole hearings.
CIP lawyers and Cal Western students have been working on these cases for over 20 years. Combined, these CIP clients have spent more than 78 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.
“I’m thrilled,” said Justin Brooks, Director of the California Innocence Project and a Professor of Law at California Western. “This was absolutely the right decision by the Governor, and I am very grateful that he made it.”
In 2006, CIP began investigating the JoAnn Parks case. Parks, who has been in prison since 1993 for a fire that killed her three children, has always maintained her innocence. CIP presented evidence in 2015 that discredited the state’s theory of arson. Parks was sentenced to life without parole, but will now be eligible to appear in front of the parole board.
CIP presented Rodney McNeal’s claim of innocence in the San Bernardino Superior Court in 2007. McNeal was at work at the time his wife was murdered. McNeal has always maintained his innocence. After investigating the case for several years, CIP uncovered evidence that another man committed the murder. That same alternate suspect has been convicted of two other murders.
Suzanne Johnson’s case involved an infant who accidentally fell out of a high chair and succumbed to a fatal head injury. Johnson was convicted of assault on a child causing death under a theory of Shaken Baby/Shaken Slam Syndrome. Doctors testified Johnson’s version of events was impossible. Today’s science, over twenty years later, supports Johnson’s version of what happened.
CIP began looking into the David Jassy case in 2019. Jassy was convicted of murder following an altercation. Although Jassy admitted to punching the victim, he maintained he did not intentionally strike the victim with his car, as the prosecution had argued. The Governor recognized that the tragic incident was accidental in the clemency announcement.
“In a time when there is nothing but bad news, this is incredible news,” said Brooks. “Four innocent people will soon be home with their families. I am so grateful to my staff and students who dedicate so much time and energy to serving justice.”
“This is a day that tenacious California Western advocacy was recognized, and justice was served.”
About the California Innocence Project
The California Innocence Project is a clinical program of California Western School of Law dedicated to the release of wrongfully convicted inmates and providing an outstanding educational experience for students enrolled in the clinic. The California Innocence Project receives approximately 1,500 claims from inmates each year and has freed 30 wrongfully convicted clients since its inception. Read more at https://CaliforniaInnocenceProject.org