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Quintin Morris Becomes 6th Member Of 'California 12' To Be Released From Prison

This photo released by the California Innocence Project shows Quintin Morris, 53, celebrating with CIP litigaton coordinator Alissa Bjerkhoel, left, and his sister Billie Sullivan after he was released from Folsom Prison after spending 27 years behind bars for attempted murders he denied committing, outside the prison in Folsom, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. Then-Gov. Jerry Brown commuted Morris's 1994 potential life sentence last August, allowing him to be granted parole. He's expected to spend some time in a halfway house in the Los Angeles area.
Jeremy Stock/California Innocence Project via AP
This photo released by the California Innocence Project shows Quintin Morris, 53, celebrating with CIP litigaton coordinator Alissa Bjerkhoel, left, and his sister Billie Sullivan after he was released from Folsom Prison after spending 27 years behind bars for attempted murders he denied committing, outside the prison in Folsom, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. Then-Gov. Jerry Brown commuted Morris's 1994 potential life sentence last August, allowing him to be granted parole. He's expected to spend some time in a halfway house in the Los Angeles area.
Quintin Morris Becomes 6th Member Of 'California 12' To Be Released From Prison
GUEST: Justin Brooks, executive director, California Innocence Project Subscribe to the Midday Edition podcast on iTunes,Google Play or your favorite podcatcher.

Another member of the California Innocence Projects California. Twelve is now a free man. Quintin Maude spent 27 years in prison for a murder another man confessed to committing. Jerry Brown granted Morris parole in September. He walked free on Thursday. He is the sixth member of the California 12 to be released from prison. Justin Brooks is executive director of the California Innocence Project and he represented Quentin Morris for more than a decade. Thanks for joining us. Absolutely. Thanks for having me. So just in another man confessed to the crime that Quintin Morris was convicted of why did he spend 27 years in prison. Yeah it is just so difficult to unring the bell once you've been wrongfully convicted in America. We've got to go through incredible processes. We have the burden of proof. And even though the trial judge had problems with this case and believe that Clinton was likely innocent and even though an appellate judge also shared that view. And even though his conviction was reversed a number of years ago only to be reversed. This battle just went on for years and years and years it was a terrible case to start with. He never should have been convicted and I'm just glad that he's home now and you were with Quentin Morris the day he was released what was his reaction. I mean I don't know if there's any true measure of the emotional experience of walking out of prison after 27 years. You know bittersweet is an adjective but it's just not good enough. You know it's it's that you got your life back but you lost so much of it. Like I spent about 15 minutes trying to explain to him what a smartphone was and showing how I could do directions on it and do my banking and listen to music and you know just imagine he's he's walking out to a world and the last time he was out was 27 years ago. It's really unthinkable. Wow. And you know after working for more than a decade on his case you were finally able to win him parole but not exonerate him. So does that make it less of a victory. Well you know what I always say is the mission the California innocence project and we're law school clinic at California Western School of Law where law students and lawyers work to get innocent people out of prison. That's our primary mission. So for me if I can get a client out on parole by arguing to the governor to reduce his sentence it's a 95 percent. It's an A it's a win because mostly what we try and do is get people home. Now if we can get them exonerated we can get their record cleared. Well that's 100. But my main goal is get them home. And what can he do with his life. You know. Yeah. That's a very difficult question because different clients have different capacity to do different things. He's been down a very very long time. You know when he went in a young guy he's come out a middle aged guy he's he's got a lot of capacity. And I think he'll be able to do some things. But time will tell. You know that they suffer severe anxiety. I had a client who had got out after 20 years and he couldn't cross the street without me holding his hand because he'd been locked down so much in solitary confinement that he had all kinds of spatial disorders. He had constant panic attacks with the way we've created prisons is to cut people off from society and prisons can largely make people dysfunctional. And it's something we really gotta think about as a society. In California it always shocks me how far away from the cities we build these prisons. And as a result of putting people out in the desert in the middle of nowhere in these boxes they're completely cut off from their families and they're cut off from a normal life. And then we expect them to reintegrate. And this is why one of the reasons why the United States has one of the highest recidivism rates in the world. So I stay very close to my clients. They've done very well. You know he's the 30th person that we've walked out of prison at the California Innocence Project and but it's a struggle it's a struggle a lot of times we spend a lot of time doing social work and it's a lot to do with the time they spent in prison. I mean in an aside from those challenges he still has a record. Yeah. So he'll have challenges getting work. And that's one of the reasons you know it's great to do a radio show like this. I spend a lot of time making sure that we get out there into the public the case and the facts. So when Quentin goes to apply for a job. Someone can google his name and see the truth and the truth is he went to prison for 27 years for a crime he didn't commit. And I'd hope that employers would look at that and be sympathetic as opposed to holding it against him as being a thing like hey I'd like to help this guy out not turn him down because he has a criminal record. But yeah you're right it can hurt him and a lot of different ways. Mm hmm. And Justin you know Morse was only released from prison last week and in the end the governor granted him parole. So here's Governor Brown speaking to the Sacramento Bee in December about how he thinks about commutations. I'm looking at people that have very long sentences or life without parole and we discover that many of them avail themselves of programs they avoid bad behavior they follow the rules or if they did have bad behavior they change. And so therefore we look at that. And when I give commutations most of the time we don't release them but send them over to the parole board. And you know that's what happened to Maurice but you know why in the end weren't you able to get him completely exonerated. Yeah I mean I have such mixed feelings about the governor's approach to clemency. On the one hand I applaud him for all the people he gave chances to people who had ridiculously long sentences people who were going to die in prison for crimes you know that in other states and certainly around the world would have been a few years in prison. So I applaud his effort to do that. On the other hand it's been very frustrating with him that he looks for cases where people are showing remorse where people have redeem themselves. And I'm talking to him about innocent people and that's why you know six years ago I decided along with two lawyers in my office to walk 712 miles with these 12 clemency petitions to the governor's office to get media attention get people focused that these are innocent people. Quentin Morris is the sixth person we've walked out of prison. Of those 12. But the other five we had to litigate to get them out. And the governor didn't help us at all. So it's frustrating and I'm hoping Gavin Newsom will take a different approach and we'll really look at these cases. I offered over all those years for them to meet with my clients. I offered to fly witnesses to Sacramento to talk to them. I offered to have them examine the evidence. I wanted to make the case for innocence not the case for mercy. And those are two different things. So I think the governor showed a lot of mercy but I don't think he looked closely enough at these cases because the first people who should be given clemency are innocent people in prison. What is your sense of Gavin Newsom's willingness to look at the remaining six cases well you know he had his has had very progressive politics. I think he's a believer in criminal justice reform. And you know honestly I think anybody who looks at these cases whether you're Republican or you're a Democrat or whatever nobody believes innocent people should be in prison. So it's really just about taking the time and looking at the cases because even the most conservative person doesn't want to spend sixty five thousand dollars a year keeping an innocent person in prison who's not going to commit other crimes. So I've a lot of belief again. And you know after 30 years of practice and criminal law every day I wake up and I try not to be cynical about these things and I try to believe just like all my lawyers do. And that gets us to work every morning. I've been speaking with Justin Brooks executive director of the California Innocence Project. Justin thank you so much for joining us. My pleasure.

Another member of the California Innocence Project's California 12 is now a free man. Quintin Morris spent 27 years in prison for a murder another man confessed to committing.

Governor Jerry Brown granted him parole in September and he walked free on January 10.

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Morris is the sixth member of the California 12 to be released from prison. Brown reduced the sentence of a seventh member of the group, Keira Newsome, making her eligible for parole. The Innocence Project attorneys took on the cases of the California 12 believing they are innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted.

The Innocence project is now turning to Governor Gavin Newsom to grant clemency to the remaining five members of the California 12.

Justin Brooks, executive director of the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law, joins Midday Edition Wednesday with more on Morris' story.