Last week, the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law in San Diego had it's most successful week since the project was established in 2000. Thanks to the work of students and law professors in the project, Adam Riojas of Oceanside and John Stoll of Bakersfield were released from prison after serving a combined 33 years. They are now free men. "We put in thousands of hours proving that Adam and John are innocent and the work has definitely paid off," said Professor Justin Brooks, executive director of the California Innocence Project. "Now they both have a chance to start over, knowing that the criminal justice system finally saw the truth about their cases." The California Innocence Project is a law school program that operates out of the Institute for Criminal Defense Advocacy at California Western School of Law. With the conclusion of the Riojas and Stoll cases last week, the project has now worked to free three wrongfully convicted California inmates. California Innocence Project students work alongside practicing criminal defense lawyers to seek the release of innocence prisoners. The law students assist in the investigation of cases where there is strong evidence of innocence, write briefs in those cases and advocate in all appropriate forums for the release of the project's clients. The year-long California Innocence Project class is co-taught by Brooks and Professor Jan Stiglitz.
Adam Riojas Riojas was released on parole April 26, after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger chose not to block the unanimous decision of the parole board. The board granted Riojas parole in December after hearing testimony that Riojas's father confessed to the crime, telling family members that he, and not Adam, should be in prison for the murder. "After being in prison 13 years it's torn me up to know that I didn't do this and yet I'm still in here," Riojas told the parole board. "But, I've never ever stopped believing in our justice system." Riojas, 42, was released from Chuckawalla Valley State Prison Monday, April 26, at about 5 p.m., after serving 13 years of his 15-years-to-life sentence. He has returned to Oceanside where he will reside with his mother. "Adam Riojas is an innocent man," declared Brooks, who argued for Riojas's release at the parole hearing in December. "I am so pleased that we have found a way to get Adam home to his family. He should be fully exonerated of all criminal charges." The California Innocence Project reviews claims of innocence and rejects the overwhelming majority of the cases brought to them because the claims are not provable. "Adam Riojas's case falls into the very small category of cases where we know a client is innocent and there are facts that can prove it," said Brooks, who is also a professor at California Western. Riojas was convicted of second-degree murder in 1991 for the death of Jose Rodarte. However, Riojas's father, Adam Ramirez Riojas Sr., told family members shortly before his death that it was he, and not his son, who had actually been involved in the killing. "When we investigated the father as a potential suspect there was a lot of evidence pointing to him as the actual killer and our client had a solid alibi," said Ben Warren who worked on the case in the California Innocence Project and graduated from California Western this week. "This was the best graduation gift I could have," Warren said. Much of the work on the case was funded by local rock star Joe Walsh of the Eagles. Joe's wife, Denise Walsh, a San Diego public defender became interested in the case and her husband provided investigative funds to the California Innocence Project. At parole hearings in 2002 and 2003, Riojas was granted parole. Gov. Gray Davis blocked the 2002 parole. At both hearings the prosecution chose not to argue against the parole, and at the 2002 hearing, a district attorney stated, on the record, that he was "seriously concerned that this inmate may have been wrongfully convicted."
John Stoll On Friday, April 30, a Kern County Judge overturned John Stoll's 1985 child-molestation conviction, and he is set to be released the first week of May. Attorneys and students spent hundreds of hours over the past year reinvestigating the Stoll case, preparing witnesses and attending the four-part hearing in Bakersfield. "John Stoll spent far too many years of his life in prison for crimes he didn't commit. I'm happy that the truth has finally come out," Brooks said. "Investigation by our Innocence Project proved that faulty statements, obtained improperly, resulted in a wrongful conviction in this case." During the hearing, four witnesses who testified against Stoll as children recanted their testimony. The men took the stand and admitted that the stories of sexual abuse they told as children were lies and that law enforcement officials coerced them into making false allegations against Stoll when they were ages 7 to 9. Many broke down crying on the stand as they described the shame and emotional trauma they suffered as a result of knowing they helped send an innocent man in prison. Their 1984 testimony led to Stoll being convicted of 17 counts of child molestation in one of several infamous Kern County sex ring prosecutions.