Wednesday, November 1, 2006
Today Timothy Atkins is 39 years old. But he was just 17 on New Year’s Day in 1985 when Maria and Vincente Gonzalez were returning from an outing in Los Angeles.
Stiglitz: Just prior to getting home, they pulled over to the curb and while there, two men approached the car with guns and one of the men shot the husband and the other man grabbed a necklace from the wife and then they fled.
Jan Stiglitz helps run the innocence project at California Western Law School where students work to free wrongfully convicted inmates. Stiglitz traveled to Los Angeles today to convince a judge that Atkins falls into that category. He says there were serious problems with the prosecution’s case against Atkins. Prosecutors relied heavily on an informant who said Atkins was involved in the crime. The informant later withdrew his story. Also, the victim’s wife described the perpetrator as gaunt and bug-eyed. Atkins didn’t fit that description.
Stiglitz: Atkins has always maintained his innocence, and then the new evidence that we brought before the court in a petition was the recantation by the prosecution’s prime witness -- a woman named Denise Powell who testified that Atkins was in her car the morning after the shooting and Atkins said, "We just offed a Mexican.”
It was a Cal Western Law student who found Powell a couple of years ago. Stiglitz says Powell recently testified that she made the story up about Atkins because she was young, naïve and didn’t think a jury would convict him.
Stiglitz: The criminal justice system is run by people. People make mistakes. We are not infallible, particularly when you’re talking about jurors who are trying to decide who is telling the truth or which witness is more accurate. It’s a very inexact science. Mistakes happen.
The judge heard the case today. He could make a decision any day now on whether to reverse Atkins conviction. If he does, it will be the fifth time students at Cal Western have helped exonerate an inmate in California.
Video of this report will be available online Thursday afternoon in the
section of this Web site.