California Innocence Project (CIP) client Derrick Harris has been freed and exonerated after 7 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
This is the 34th client freed by CIP, which is based at California Western School of Law.
Harris was arrested in July of 2013 for an armed robbery that occurred at Hawkins House of Hamburgers. Two men held another man at gunpoint and stole his gold chain before the perpetrators fled the scene. The victim picked Harris out of a lineup after a police investigation. Harris always maintained his innocence and said he was home with his girlfriend at the time of the crime. Over the years, Harris’ co-defendant and a third-party suspect admitted to their involvement in the crime.
CIP took on Harris’ case in 2019.
“The Project initially became interested in the case because the only evidence against Harris was a single eyewitness identification,” said Michael Semanchik, CIP’s Managing Attorney “Eyewitness misidentifications are one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions. Moreover, thanks to the post-conviction investigation by Harris’ trial attorney, we also knew the true perpetrators had implicated themselves and exculpated Harris in the years following the conviction.”
Desmen Mixon, Harris’ co-defendant, apologized to Harris’ girlfriend shortly after Mixon went to prison. A few years later, Mixon signed a declaration and sent it to Harris’ trial attorney, Los Angeles Public Defender Elizabeth Warner-Sterkenburg. Warner-Sterkenburg and Public Defender Investigator Steve Lewis interviewed the third-party suspect, who said, “I want to help, I have something to say, if I tell you I’ll end up doing more time, I’ll be back in court.”
In April of 2020, Semanchik presented the case to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit (CRU). CRU Deputy in Charge Martha Carrillo quickly assigned two investigators and two attorneys. Ultimately, the CRU concluded they had not only lost confidence in the conviction but determined Harris was factually innocent. The Los Angeles District Attorney and CIP entered a joint stipulation to reverse Harris’ conviction and find him factually innocent. Derrick Harris was exonerated by Judge William C. Ryan shortly thereafter.
“Credit for this exoneration goes to Mike Semanchik,” said Justin Brooks, Director of CIP and a professor of law at California Western. “He did amazing and efficient work on this case. Thanks also to CIP investigator David Beatty and CWSL students Amade Edwards, Kristin Ingersoll, and Elizabeth Leon Gonzalez who also worked to free Derrick.”
“It’s particularly heartening that this case was resolved with cooperation from the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office,” added Brooks. “That’s how wrongful convictions should be resolved: prosecutors and defense attorneys working together to fix a case when it goes wrong.”
To learn more about the case, click here.
About the California Innocence Project
The California Innocence Project is a California Western School of Law clinical program 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 34 wrongfully convicted clients since its inception. Read more at: https://CaliforniaInnocenceProject.org