A man who spent more than 32 years behind bars after being found guilty of murder in what prosecutors agree was not a "fundamentally fair trial'' was set free Thursday.
Andrew Leander Wilson, 62, was met by jubilant relatives, students and lawyers for the Loyola Law School's Los Angeles Project for the Innocent, who worked for years to win his freedom.
"I'm happy that I'm at the end of it now. My family's alright. I'm alright," said Wilson.
His case caught the attention of Loyola Law School's Project for the Innocent.
"Three years ago, they gave me reason to think that it was going to happen,'' he said of the Loyola project team.
"I never gave up and by the grace of God I was put in contact with Loyola Law School, and from day one they believed in me," Wilson said.
On Wednesday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Laura F. Priver granted a request to vacate Wilson's November 1986 conviction for the robbery and murder of Christopher Hanson, and dismissed the case against him.
"Mr. Wilson has maintained his innocence from the day he was arrested in 1984. He has never wavered and never stopped fighting to prove his innocence,'' his attorney, Paula Mitchell, said.
"Numerous due process violations that recently came to light show conclusively that Mr. Wilson did not receive a fair trial,'' said Mitchell, the legal director of Loyola Law School's Los Angeles Project for the Innocent.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Mitchell added: "Mr. Wilson is elated. He is so glad this is finally over. When he first contacted our office, one of the things he said to us is, `This whole ordeal has been a nightmare for my entire family.'''
In a court filing, Deputy District Attorney Erika Jerez wrote, "Based on the LADA's post-conviction investigation, the LADA concedes that cumulative errors during pre-trial and trial proceedings deprived Mr. Wilson of his constitutional right to a fundamentally fair trial ... The LADA does not intend to retry Mr. Wilson after the convictions are vacated.''
The prosecutor noted that Wilson was convicted based on the testimony of an eyewitness whose identification was partially corroborated by a second witness who placed Wilson in the area around the time of the crime.
A third witness overheard Wilson make "incriminating statements suggesting Mr. Wilson was involved in Hanson's robbery and murder,'' Jerez wrote, noting that no physical evidence connected him to the crime.
Wilson plans to return to St. Louis to spend time with his mother, Margie Davis, who will turn 97 on May 1.
"Mrs. Davis' commitment to seeing her son released from prison and exonerated is truly remarkable. She has been right by his side every step along the way for the last 32 years,'' said Adam Grant, Loyola Project for the Innocent's program director.
A May 3 hearing is scheduled on whether Wilson should be declared factually innocent of the crime. If he is, Wilson would be eligible to receive about $1.6 million in state money.
In the court filing from the District Attorney's Office, Jerez wrote that the District Attorney's Office does not believe Wilson is factually innocent.
"Should Mr. Wilson later move for a judicial finding of factual innocence, LADA will vigorously contest that motion at the inevitable evidentiary hearing that will follow,'' Jerez wrote.
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