Susan Mellen is free today after spending 17 years in prison for a murder she did not commit

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Good morning:

Free at last!

After serving 17 years in prison for a crime that she did not commit, Susan Mellen is free at last.

Corrina Knoll of the Los Angeles Times reports:

Superior Court Judge Mark S. Arnold said the trial had hinged on a single witness who was a “habitual liar” and claimed Mellen had confessed involvement in the crime. But jurors never learned that the witness’ sister, a Torrance police officer, believed she was a pathological liar or that Torrance police had several years earlier deemed the witness an “unreliable informant.”

The judge said Mellen had received “subpar representation” from a trial attorney who should have conducted a thorough investigation of the witness’ credibility.

“I believe that not only is Ms. Mellen not guilty, I believe based on what I’ve read, she’s innocent, and for that reason I believe the criminal justice system failed,” Arnold said.

“Thank you, your honor, thank you so much,” Mellen, 59, said in a small voice.

“Good luck,” the judge replied.

Mellen was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1998 for soliciting the murder of a homeless man, Richard Daly, at a home in Lawndale, California where she and others were living at the time. Three gang members were subsequently linked to the murder and one of them was convicted of beating Daly to death. One of the others later passed a polygraph in which he admitted that he was present during the murder, but Susan Mellen was not there.

The three causes of this wrongful conviction are:

1) Jailhouse informant perjury;

2) Police and prosecutorial misconduct; and

3) Ineffective assistance of counsel.

The jailhouse informant or ‘snitch’ in this case was a woman named June Patti. People who work in the criminal justice system all know that jailhouse snitch testimony is inherently unreliable because they have powerful motives to lie in order to receive beneficial consequences lightening their load in return for their cooperation and testimony against a defendant. For this reason, I believe no conviction based solely on jailhouse snitch testimony should ever stand.

Mellen’s case is a perfect example of what can go wrong, if jailhouse snitch testimony is admitted to shore up a weak prosecution case.

June Patti testified that Susan Mellen admitted her guilt in the Daly murder while they were together in jail before Mellen’s trial. The lead investigator, LAPD Detective Marcella Winn, and the prosecutor who tried Susan Mellen should have known and likely knew that June Patti was an unreliable witness because she had a long history of providing false tips to law enforcement. For example, Patti’s sister, the Torrance police officer to whom Judge Arnold referred in his comment, now claims that she warned Detective Winn that June Patti was a pathological liar and several years before the murder a narcotics detective for the Torrance Police Department wrote a report in which he said Patti had provided a series of tips that turned out to false.

Police and prosecutors have a duty to investigate the reliability of an informant before putting her on the stand and risk convicting a potentially innocent defendant.

This information was exculpatory evidence that should have been obtained and disclosed to defense counsel before trial pursuant to Brady v. Maryland, and Giglio v. United States. Their failure to obtain and disclose this information to defense counsel was misconduct.

Finally, Mellen’s defense attorney compounded their misconduct by failing to investigate June Patti’s credibility. Her failure constitutes ineffective assistance of counsel.

I have often referred to defense counsel as liberty’s last guardian and that statement is certainly true in this case because Susan Mellen is free today due to the efforts of Deirdre O’Connor, an attorney who runs Innocence Matters, a nonprofit organization that represents wrongfully convicted innocent people.

Upon her release yesterday after serving 17 years in prison for a crime that she did not commit, she said,

I always forgave my enemies. Even your haters, you have to forgive them and sometimes thank them because they bring you closer to God.

For more information about June Patti’s pathological lying in Washington State after she left California, please go here.

16 Responses to Susan Mellen is free today after spending 17 years in prison for a murder she did not commit

  1. Jennifer says:

    Is there any rule or law that says, ‘now we need to look at the prosecutors and the police’ ? Is there anything that they could be held accountable for in situations like this? It is disheartening to know how many have been wrongly convicted and later found innocent.

    • No, prosecutors have absolute immunity from civil liability and police have qualified immunity, which means they are immune as long as they are acting in good faith within the scope of their employment duties.

  2. citizen says:

    they are turning people out of prision all the time from death row cause they found out they were lied on DNA proved they didnt do it how many people have been not guilty and murdered by the state the system is broken one persons word is not enough you need some proof its like all the women that get mad want revenge and scream rape well its up to the man to prove he didnt rape her but a jury will convict him on her word alone no other evidence needed im a woman i sit on a lynch mob jury in a rape case i was the only one that wouldnt vote guilty so the jury was hung they retried him and at the second trial they dismissed the charges cause they found out the girl had screamed rape 4 other times there is no doubt in my mind the prosecutor knew this but burried it that poor boy lost his job his girl friend and everything his life was ruined when i seen some of the other jury members they said they still believed he was guilty even though she confessed she lied what did they do to her? NOTHING he was facing 140 years i believe she should have got the 140 years THE PEOPLE THAT LIE COVER UP SHOULD BE BROUGHT TO JUSTICE jurys need to WAKE UP stop the blood thirsty lynch mob mentality

  3. citizen says:

    there should be a law that the police the prosecutor that put her away should be put in prison now to serve 17 years they knew they just didnt care they were just DOING THERE JOB this woman has been robbed of 17 years of her life i think she should sue and get 50 million her life is about over whats left of it is ruined but it comes down in the end to the system in america your GUILTY TILL PROVED INNOCENT and the jurys are nothing but lynch mobs they will bend over if the police tell them to the jury should not convict unless theres proof and one persons word is not proof but this is happening every day across america its nothing new

    • bettykath says:

      I agree that she should be generously compensated for her time in prison but the rest of her life will probably be ok because her family has stood with her throughout this and they are with her now.

  4. Owl says:

    “I always forgave my enemies. Even your haters, you have to forgive them and sometimes thank them because they bring you closer to God.” ~ Susan Mellen

    what have we left but God in our darkest days and hours? and in our everyday sunshine. our mysterious presence here on earth from conception until the spirit flys away from our bodies is explained to me only by God’s hand and work.

    i struggle with forgiveness, but know it’s the only way to make peace with myself and others.

  5. bettykath says:

    16 year old gets a fist in the face when his hands are in the air and then a gun in the face while he is on the ground. One officer loses his badge and his gun pending investigation by other cops, the other officer suspended without pay, pending investigation by other cops.

    Both cops have been reported for use of excessive force.

    • I believe the most dangerous terrorists in the United States are our militarized police departments.

      • Malisha says:

        There are people who choose to join police forces for the same mentally crippled reasons as Fogen wanted to join: to have power over others and to have carte blanche to do harm to people. Power hungry micro-manager coercive controllers. Dangerous to all they come into contact with.

      • Two sides to a story says:

        Amen to that.

      • Owl says:

        yes, runaway abuses, excessive force and militaristic-type violence has trended without accountability for years.
        i recall the rubber bullets shot into the crowd outside of a Red Sox game / Fenway which resulted in the death of an innocent young woman who was shot in the eye.
        or tactical gear and vehicles in response to domestic violence situations in urban and semi-urban environments.
        you said it well. succinctly.
        the complex issues around racial discrimination serve to highlight the brutality of selective killings in the name of the law. this mentality and “authority” whose mission we once regarded as “serve and protect” puts us all at risk.

  6. Owl says:

    Fred, your past, professional efforts to right injustices are commendable, as are your present efforts to inform.
    i recognize the imperfect system of justice that is often grossly unjust, and the violence that we humans not only assert against one another, but the power we needlessly exert over helpless animals. human beings are aggressors. we are cruel and inhumane. we are predators when our existence no longer depends on such behaviors.
    teach kindness, and display compassion and dignity in everyday dealings. it is our only hope.

  7. Disappointed says:

    Our justice system should be re-named the justice(less) system. How horrible that Susan lost so many years because people did not do their jobs properly.

  8. bettykath says:

    The next step is some sort of accountability for the prosecutor and the defense attorney.

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