A Los Angeles has been released from prison after serving seven years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.
Derrick Harris was wrongfully convicted of robbery, illegally possessing a firearm and violating a gang injunction in 2013, and had been sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced Harris’ release on Tuesday, admitting that “a mistake was made” in sending him to prison.
“This case underscores the important ethical duty of every prosecutor to continue to seek justice, even if it requires us to admit that a mistake was made,” Lacey said in a statement. “I am grateful to the man who told the truth, that Mr. Harris was not involved in this crime, which ignited our reinvestigation of this case.”
Harris was released from prison by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan at a hearing Tuesday morning. Ryan vacated his conviction, dismissed his case with prejudice and found him factually innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted, according to a press release from the DA’s office.
Harris had been found guilty of an armed robbery on July 1, 2013, at the Hawkins House of Hamburgers in Watts after the victim identified Harris at trial as one of two men who pointed a handgun at him and stole his gold chain necklace.
Harris maintained that he was innocent, and his case was taken up by the California Innocence Project last year.
The non-profit organization submitted a claim of factual innocence to the DA’s Conviction Review Unit on Harris’ behalf in May, based on a written statement from the second suspect, Desmen Mixon, that said Harris was not part of the robbery.
The Conviction Review Unit corroborated the written statement and the investigation was reopened. Investigators with the DA’s office “developed evidence that led to the identification of a new suspect who confessed that he committed the robbery” — though that person could not be charged due to the statute of limitations.
California Innocence Project Director Justin Brooks said in a statement that Harris’ exoneration is an example of how “exonerations should happen.”
“Defense attorneys and prosecutors working together to fix mistakes from the past,” Brooks said. “My thanks go out to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office Conviction Review Unit.”
It’s unfortunate that the system took seven years of Derrick’s life away from him, but we’re thrilled that he gets the opportunity to make up for lost time. Not everyone is so fortunate.