Finding that a sheriff's detective had falsified evidence, a federal jury in Los Angeles earlier this month ordered Riverside County on Monday to pay $2 million to a man exonerated by DNA evidence after serving 12 years in prison for rape, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.
The verdict came almost 19 years after Herman Atkins was sentenced to 45 years in prison for a 1986 rape and robbery in Lake Elsinore. Atkins steadfastly maintained his innocence. In 2000, DNA tests conducted by Richmond, Calif., forensic scientist Edward Blake, and later confirmed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, eliminated Atkins as a source of semen found on the victim’s sweater. The actual rapist was never identified.
Two years later, Atkins filed a civil damage suit alleging, among other things, that sheriff’s Det. Danny Miller had fabricated evidence and withheld information that raised doubts about whether he committed the crime. Specifically, the attorneys said Miller submitted a statement attributed to a man named Eric Ingram, who reportedly told Miller that he knew Atkins as a gang member in the Lake Elsinore area in early April 1986. The rape in question occurred on April 8, 1986. Miller reportedly included Ingram’s statement in papers seeking Atkins’ arrest warrant.
Sixteen years later, after Atkins had been released from prison, a private investigator tracked down Ingram, who signed a sworn statement saying he did not know Atkins and had not told Miller he had seen Atkins in the vicinity of the crime. Atkins was represented in his fight to overturn his conviction by lawyers from the Innocence Project at Cardozo School of Law in New York. His civil lawyers, Peter Neufeld and Deborah Cornwall contended that evidence of the fabrication could have persuaded the jury to acquit their client. The six-woman, two-man federal jury agreed, responding, “Yes” to a question on the official verdict form:
“Did Atkins prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Miller failed to disclose favorable information to the prosecutor; specifically that he fabricated the Ingram statement?”
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