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John Smith

 John's innocence . . .

John was 18 years old when he was arrested for a murder he did not commit.  The truth has been locked away with John in a cell since 1993.  In July 2010, John effortlessly passed a polygraph performed by a retired career law-enforcement officer.  Soon after, the sole eyewitness was interviewed and immediately explained that he felt pressured by the police to implicate John.  When John heard the news of the recantation, he wept.  John insisted that we try to get the witness to submit to a polygraph test.   We quickly obtained the witness's consent and a polygraph examination result that confirmed the truthfulness of his recantation.

Of course, John is delighted with the recent developments, but none of it comes as a surprise   He knew he would pass the test and he knew the witness could not have seen him.  John was miles away at the time of the shooting.

What he does not know now is how long it will take for this news to translate into his freedom.

More about John's journey here

Timeline & Case Documents

Crime: 9/9/93
Photo Array: 11/2/93
Arrested: 11/2/93
 * * * * 
Incriminating Evidence:
One belated identification
Alibi & misidentification
 * * * * 
Pretrial Investigation:
Virtually none--trial attorney interviewed alibi witnesses in courtroom hallway during trial!
 * * * * 
Trial: 10/31/94 -11/1/94
Testimony:  5 hrs
Verdict: 11/2/94
 * * * * 
Post-Trial Investigation
Interviewed client, visited crime scene, obtained affidavits from alibi witnesses, brief conversations with trial counsel. 
 * * * * 
Motion for New Trial:
Filed: 4/26/95
Supp. MNT: 5/22/95
Argument: 5/23/95
Denied: 5/23/95
  * * * * 
Direct Appeal 
Notice: 5/23/95 Dismissed: 3/21/96
(Failed to file brief)
Dis. Vacated: 4/16/96
AOB - Brief: 4/19/96
Response: 8/16/96
Reply: 10/7/96
Denied: 12/31/96
 * * * * 
Habeas Investigation:
 * * * * 
State Habeas
Trial Court: 12/11/97
Denied: 12/11/97
Appeal: 12/16/97
Denied: 2/19/98
Cal. Sup.: 3/6/98
Denied: 10/28/98
Federal Habeas
Filed: 11/8/98
Denied: 9/21/01
9th Circuit Appeal
Filed: 11/8/01
Cert.: 9/16/02
Briefs Due: 11/6/02
Dismissal: 6/8/03
(failed to file brief)
 * * * * 
Representation: 1/7/10

Innocence Matters
Representation: 6/7/10
 * * * * 
1/7/10 - 6/7/10
100+ hours

6/7/10 - 10/29/10
1,000+ hours

John's Poly: 7/27/10
Recantation: 7/30/10
Wit.'s Poly: 9/3/10
10/29/11 - Present
Investigation Ongoing

IM State Habeas Pet.Filed: 10/29/10
Supp.: 9/30/11 

John's Exoneration TBA

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September 9 Shooting

On the morning of September 9, 1993, Landu Mvuemba and DeAnthony Williams walked together to visit the scene of a gang-related shooting committed the night before near 17th Street and Rimpau Boulevard.  Mvuemba and Williams were casually walking when, without warning, Mvuemba heard the sound of gunfire.  He ran for cover and--depending on which version you believe--was shot either just before he found refuge behind a truck or when he momentarily stopped and turned as he ran down the street.  
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Evolving Description & Identification

9/9/93: At scene, Mvuemba provided this vague description: 

"Male blacks," bloods in a red car. 

Other witnesses contradicted Mvuemba; all reported seeing a black car, possibly a Ford Taurus.  No one reported getting a good look at the shooter's face.

In the ambulance. Mvuemba is reported to have said:

"That a red unknown type of American vehicle drove by his location and shot at him. Victim stated that the guys were Rollin 20's blood gang members."

9/13/93: At hospital, four days after the shooting, Mvuemba signed this statement:

"On Wednesday some bloods came into the neighborhood and were in a traffic accident.  They got out and some guns were fired.  Some went and got guns and ran them out of the neighborhood.  DeAnthony showed me what happened and on Thursday me and DeAnthony were on 17th St. walking back over to 17th & Rimpau to look again when this guy come driving down the street real slow.  The guy stopped and started shooting.  I got hit first.  The left side of my stomach.  I got down behind a truck.  DeAnthony just stood there.  He just kept shooting.  The guy was young.  His hair was "Fade" cut with braid that hung over his forehead.  He was driving a newer red Toyota, possible Celica."

10/4/93: One month later, Mvuemba is reported to have called Detectives and said: 

"He heard from a friend that 'One Punch' possibly from 20's was bragging about doing the shooting."

Mvuemba also recalls telling the police that the same friend told him that "RC" did the shooting.  Police heard from other unidentified sources that "RC" was responsible for this shooting.

11/2/93: Mvuemba was taken out of school in handcuffs and brought to the police station for the purpose of making an identification.  While there, Mvuemba identified John Smith and signed this statement written by the police:

"I saw a car drive W/B [westbound] slow.  This car was red.  The car stopped and the driver started shooting at us.  I ran toward a parked truck and was ducking.  That's when I got hit.  I think there was another car because I heard a lot of shooting.   I looked back after the shooting and I saw DeAnthony on his hands and knees and I ran back to a man across the street.  DeAnthony was trying to call my name.  I got dizzy and couldn't get back up.  The guy I saw driving the car was about 17-18 yrs old, braided hair.  I saw him before in school a few years ago, maybe in Jr. high."

2/2/94: Mvuemba testified at the preliminary hearing:

Mvuemba was walking eastbound with DeAnthony when he saw a red car drive by slowly.  Mvuemba heard shots, then ran eastbound, stopped and turned toward the car, at which time he claimed he saw John Smith in a black 2-door car (looked like a Nissan).  "I didn't know [John Smith], but I recognized his face back from elementary."  On cross-examinatiion, Mvuemba admitted that he narrowed the choices to two people, John Smith and the guy in position number 6, before settling on John's picture.
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Police Investigation

The police responded to the scene, collected evidence, and canvassed the neighborhood for potential eyewitnesses.  Three neighbors saw the entire incident and described the involved car as black; neither mentioned a red car anywhere in the vicinity.  One believed the car to be a black 4-door Taurus; another, a black Nissan; yet another, other a newer model, black 2-door car.  None of the witnesses got a good look at the shooter.  One witness was unable to provide any physical description of the shooter, referring to him only as "an unknown passenger."  Another witness described the shooter as a dark-skinned black man with short hair who was seated in the driver's seat.

The police quickly settled on the theory that this shooting was committed by a Rollin 20's gang member in retaliation for the shooting death of a 20's member the night before.  The police searched their database for any black cars connected to 20's--the police did not believe a red car was involved and did not look for one.  No leads resulted from this search.  

The detectives monitored the arrests of Rollin 20's gang members, and contacted 20's in custody to determine if they had anything to do with the shooting or knew who was involved.  No leads resulted.

John Smith, a 20's member, was arrested on an unrelated case in early October, which was ultimately dismissed.  Soon thereafter, John became the prime police suspect in the Williams/Mvuemba shooting.  

The police received leads that someone else committed the shooting, but failed to investigate those leads.  See Alternative Suspect for more details.
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You be the judge! 
Is it really plausible that someone looking at John's 18-year-old face,  for a second or two, as it appeared in 1993 would instantly recognize him as the same 11-year-old kid who was last seen six years earlier in 1987?  
John at his 6th grade graduation in 1986    |     John's 1993 booking photo     

If Mvuemba knew that John Smith shot him, why didn't he just tell the cops that on 9/9 or 9/13 or 10/4 or any other time before the police settled on John Smith as their suspect?
If Mvuemba knew that John Smith shot him, why did he need his friend to give him leads to pass on to the police?