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San Diego-Based Innocence Project Continues Fight For Remaining Members Of The California 12

Justin Brooks, project director of the California Innocence Project, in Berkeley ahead of a 100-mile march to Sacramento on September 30, 2018.
Justin Brooks
Justin Brooks, project director of the California Innocence Project, in Berkeley ahead of a 100-mile march to Sacramento on September 30, 2018.
San Diego-Based Innocence Project Continues Fight For Remaining Members Of The California 12
San Diego-Based Innocence Project Continues Fight For Remaining Members Of The California 12 GUEST: Justin Brooks, project director, California Innocence Project

This is PBS midday edition. I'm Maureen Cavanagh another member of the Innocence Projects California 12 could soon be released. Quentin Morris has been granted parole after serving 24 years for attempted murder which his supporters say he did not commit. The Innocence Project of the California Western School of Law in San Diego has been working for clemency for the California 12 12 prisoners who advocates say have strong cases for innocence but have exhausted all their legal options. Maurice would be the sixth prisoner to be released recently. Innocence Project Director Justin Brooks walked from Berkeley to Sacramento to bring the case of the six remaining prisoners to Governor Brown's attention. Joining me is California Innocence Project Director Justin Brooks and Justin welcome. Thank you so much Maureen has Quinn Morris been released yet he has not. So he's been granted parole. The governor has approved it in the sense that he's the one who actually reduced his sentence to make him parole lable. So this is our first success in terms of the clemencies and the governor now has 89 more days in office and I'm hoping he's going to grant clemency to the other six we released five of the others through litigation. And I think we've proven now Time and time again that these 12 Californians are innocent. In the case of Quenton Maurice another man confessed to the shooting and even though Maurices conviction was reversed he still couldn't win on appeal. Do you run into these legal conundrums often. It's incredibly frustrating. I mean a judge literally said in his case I can't really do anything about this but go to the governor and get clemency. And that's why five years ago I walked seven hundred twelve miles with those 12 clemency petitions from San Diego to Sacramento to bring attention to this problem that there are literally people in prison on technicalities mistaken eyewitness testimony also played a big part in his case. Tell us about that. Well that's the leading cause of wrongful conviction in America. And that's because when somebody goes into a courtroom and says I'm 100 percent sure that's the person that's enough to convict you. But we now know through many scientific studies that it's deeply flawed that people have a real problem identifying people and Governor Brown signed SB 923 23 this year which requires law enforcement to use best practices when conducting photo and live lineups. Will that help correct this problem. That was a huge legislative victory for 20 years I've been talking about including on this show about it edification procedures and how we need to reform them. We will never perfect them but we can do a lot better than what we've been doing. It's been proven time and time again that six pack photo arrays don't work that you can't have the police officers who know who the suspects are as part of the process because they're not good poker players and that there's just lots of problems with I.D. procedures and now we're finally going to reform them. You just completed the 100 mile walk from Berkeley to Sacramento to petition Governor Brown did grant clemency to the remaining six members of the California 12 who are the remaining six members of the California 12 and what have they been convicted of. So there are four women and their two men and they're black and they're white and they're Hispanic and they're older and they're younger and they're really a cross section of our community. If people go to California Innocence Project Doerge they can see all of their stories. The majority of them are convicted of murder and we look at six. We get 6000 letters a year for people asking us to look at their cases and each one of these cases is a compelling case of innocence where there is strong evidence that they did not commit the crime that was that they were convicted of. Now Governor Brown grants clemency. That's not like being exonerated right. Yeah. So when he grants clemency if you granted a pardon it's like being exonerated clemency is typically a reduction in sentence to allow them to be released and some of these cases we have just come to the end of the road and we know that they're going to die in prison unless we get clemency. And that's what clemency is all about. It's supposed to be a failsafe so that if the system fails that the governor can step in and say Hold on a second here even though there's not a technical reason to get them out of prison. I mean for instance the Supreme Court has repeatedly said that innocence is not a constitutional right. And so you can be in prison and innocent as long as you got what they declared to be a fair trial. So when fair trial is the standard sometimes innocent people get fair trials but ultimately evidence comes up later that shows they're innocent. And that's why the government should step in and in these cases in every one of these cases we have found that type of evidence. Is it more likely that Brown will grant clemency now that he is leaving office. Well my hope which is what drove me to walk from San Diego to Sacramento last week to walk from Berkeley to Sacramento is that this is the perfect time for this. We have a governor who seems willing to buck trends to go against the grain. He's at the end of his career. You know he's a four term governor. This seems to be the last stop for him and clemency is highly political. Like everything in the criminal justice system. So asking for instance a young governor to come and do this in the beginning of their term is very difficult because they know there's always somebody out there is going to have complaints about it. You've been tweeting the governor every day and even tweeting his dog Calusa. That's correct. You know if the governor has been paying attention. I know that his staff have seen these tweets. I tweet him every single morning from Justin. Oh Brooks at just no Brooks please read tweet. And yeah you know I've been trying to be a squeaky wheel and I know we've got at least as much oil that the governor is aware of these cases has reviewed these cases. I've met with his staff. You know and that's what lawyers do. I'm trying to get as much attention as I can so every single morning for the past five years as soon as I wake up I come up with a new tweet for the governor. The Innocence Project's efforts to exonerate Brian Banks who was wrongly convicted of rape has been made into a movie and I saw you justin in the Netflix documentary Survivor's Guide to Prison. Do you think the goals of the exoneration movement are becoming more accepted now by the public. Absolutely. When I started doing this work 30 years ago people were deeply cynical about innocence. You know you had some cases like Rubin Hurricane Carter and other cases floating around where people who really did a deep dive understood that they were innocent. I say always say there's two naive positions. One is that everyone in prison is innocent and one is that everyone in prison is guilty. The truth is most are guilty and we need the public to understand that when they sit on juries they're looking really closely to make sure this isn't one of those cases. I've been speaking with California Innocence Project Director Justin Brooks. Justin thank you. Thank you so much.

A 100-mile march was held last weekend from Berkeley to Sacramento to urge California Gov. Jerry Brown to grant clemency to the remaining six members of the California 12, a group of men and women who the California Innocence Project believes were wrongly convicted.

The march was organized by the San Diego-based Innocence Project at California Western School of Law. Project Director Justin Brooks recently announced that Quintin Morris became the sixth member of the California 12 to be released from prison. Morris was granted parole after serving 24 years for attempted murder.

Brooks discusses Morris' case and the exoneration movement, Wednesday on Midday Edition.