Los Angeles will pay 24 million dollars to two men who spent decades in prison for crimes they did not commit. In one case, lawyers and a team of students from Loyola Law School challenged a key witness’s testimony. In 1979, Kash Delano Register was charged with the armed robbery and murder of Jack Sasson, 78, after eyewitness testimony placed him at the scene at the time of the shooting. The witness told police she heard gunshots and she saw Register fleeing the scene. The witness selected Register out of a photo lineup, but her sisters told police that her story was untrue. No murder weapon was recovered and no fingerprints were found. Based solely on this witness’s testimony, a jury found Register guilty and he spent 34 years in prison.
The witness’s sister testified she tried to tell a detective that her sister had lied, but in response, the investigator allegedly put a finger to his lips indicating she should keep quiet about it. Her other sister told the police that she was lying, but even her pleas were ignored. Register’s attorneys claimed that the witness selected him under the threat of being prosecuted for credit card forgery and a recent theft if she failed to choose someone out of the lineup.
In the other case, Bruce Lisker was accused of murdering his mother. “At the time of the murder, Lisker, who had a reputation for fighting with his mother and a history of drug abuse, told police he saw her lying in the foyer and broke into the home to help her. They did not believe him.” During a hearing challenging the conviction, lawyers undermined or disproved key elements of the prosecution’s case, including that a bloody shoe print that could not have been made by Lisker’s shoes. His attorneys claimed “that the lead detective ignored evidence that Lisker’s friend may have been a possible suspect.”
In every arrest and criminal prosecution, someone’s liberty is at stake, and these cases illustrate the importance that prosecutors and police get it right. Money can always be replaced. But no one can ever get back all those years lost in prison, as a result of being falsely accused.