Los Angeles

Judge Tosses Murder Conviction of Man Who Spent More Than 32 Years Behind Bars

"Don’t stop fighting. Don’t give up. It seems like that’s what the justice system wants you to do. And I never gave up," he said.

A man who spent more than 32 years behind bars in a murder case was a free man Thursday after Los Angeles County prosecutors agreed that he did not get a "fundamentally fair trial.''

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Laura F. Priver granted a request to vacate Andrew Leander Wilson's November 1986 conviction for the robbery and murder of Christopher Hanson, and dismissed the case against the 62-year-old man.

Wilson was as "anxious and excited" before finally walking free Thursday afternoon. 

He said he couldn’t sleep, and last night he was "bothering" everybody because he was waiting for this day.

It's a day with so much but one of the most joyous moments was meeting his eldest grandchild for the first time.

"It's unexplainable," Wilson said. "I can't explain to see everybody at one time is nice. I'm happy that I am at the end of it now."

He reunited with his daughter and met his grandaughter - one of five grandchilden - who flew into Los Angeles from their home in Michigan for this day.

"That’s a waste of time -- being bitter," he said.

No anger, he said, toward a justice system that essentially failed the now 62-year-old man.

"Thirty-two years, 3 months, and 14 days. It's been that long," Wilson said.

Wilson spent all that time behind bars for a murder for which he was wrongly-convicted in 1984.

"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," said his attorney, Paula Mitchell of Loyola Law School's Los Angeles Project for the Innocent. "Numerous due process violations that recently came to light show conclusively that Mr. Wilson did not receive a fair trial.

"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 constitution 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. 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.

Wilson's daughter saw him in the flesh after only being able to communicate with him via letters and phone calls for years. 

"I don’t have words. I still have a parent -- he is my all. My dad," daughter Catrina Burks said.

Wilson is looking forward to going to St. Louis and seeing his 96-year-old mother.

"Don’t stop fighting. Don’t give up. It seems like that’s what the justice system wants you to do. And I never gave up," he said.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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