LOS ANGELES (AP) — A man who was imprisoned for more than 13 years under California's three strikes law for possessing a concealed knife — a crime a federal judge ruled he didn't commit — was ordered released while an appeal on his case is pending.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Suzanne H. Segal granted Danny Larsen's release Tuesday in Los Angeles.
As part of his release, Larsen must pay $52,000, cannot leave Los Angeles County, must look for work, undergo drug testing and anger management counseling, and cannot have any contact with gang members, said Larsen's lead attorney Jan Stiglitz, who is co-director of the California Innocence Project.
Larsen, 45, was convicted in 1999 of possessing a concealed knife after two police officers testified to seeing him throw it under a car in a bar parking lot. Larsen's defense attorney called no witnesses in the case and Larsen was sentenced to 27 years-to-life in prison under California's three strikes law.
The California Innocence Project took on the case and in June 2010, a federal judge reversed the conviction and found him innocent; Larsen's attorney was also found to be incompetent, Stiglitz said.
"We do an investigation and we find nine witnesses willing to testify that Danny never had a knife," Stiglitz said.
However, because the filing was late, Larsen's attorneys are waiting for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a separate case that will determine whether a tardy filing in federal court can be excused for a person who is "actually innocent," Stiglitz said.
Stiglitz said it is hard for a person who is in prison to conduct an investigation and gather evidence in their case while under lockdown.
"We were really late, but we didn't have what we needed to show his innocence," Stiglitz said.
The release was granted in response to an order by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is waiting on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Larsen's case will return to 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for a final decision on his freedom once the high court rules.
Stiglitz said that could come in June, but it's also possible the Supreme Court will decide it should never have taken the case to begin with.
"Danny has been waiting for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to act for over three years," Stiglitz said.
The release "means a lot to Danny — he can walk out of prison," Stiglitz said.
"And the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is sending a message that innocence matters, and innocence matters more than technicalities."