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Crime / JusticeIamA law student who just freed an innocent man from prison. AMA!

Jun 26th 2016 by ClintEhrlich • 12 Questions • 74 Points

My short bio: I'm Clint Ehrlich, half of the legal team that just freed Sgt. Ray Jennings from prison after he served 11 years of a life sentence for murder. It's a big story in today's LA Times: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-20160624-jennings-release-snap-story.html

I found out about Ray's case a year ago when I saw him on Dateline NBC. I didn't buy the evidence against him, so I started my own investigation with my dad. We presented our findings to the LA District Attorney's office, and on Thursday they agreed to let Ray out of prison! :)

Ask me about anything you want, from how I did it to what Ray is like or how crazy the media response has been. Also, please help Ray get back on his feet by using social media to spread the word about GoFundMe.com/RayJennings !!!!

My Proof: Me right now: http://i.imgur.com/4yWTntA.jpg

Me on local news: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJ9pXned-x8

Q:

Good work. I see this happens enough that there is a whole department dedicated to wrongful convictions. Will Ray be seeking restitution from the city or state?

A:

I applaud the LA DA's Conviction Review Unit. Its head, Ken Lynch, is one of the best men I've ever met.

Ray is entitled by statute to $140 for every day he was wrongfully behind bars. Unfortunately, it can take YEARS before this money is actually paid. That's why I created this GoFundMe to help him right now: https://www.gofundme.com/RayJennings


Q:

11 years at $140/day is at least $562,100.

E: Just doing math for people. Not making a comment on the amount.

A:

It sounds like a lot of money... until you realize you have to spend 11 years in prison to earn it.

And that they do their best to avoid ever actually paying up... :-/


Q:

Why does it take so long?

What do you need to do in order to get it?

A:

The standard of proof to qualify for the money is higher than the standard for getting released from prison. And because the government doesn't want to pay out money, they will fight hard to avoid admitting that the standard has been met.

Then, even if they admit that you should be paid at some point, they will delay based on laws that require public hearings for appropriation of funds.


Q:

Congratulations, it's always nice to see some good done.

Could you walk us through step by step what you had to do to get him released?

A:

I saw the Dateline episode around midnight and I was confused how they convicted this guy so I went and read the Court of Appeal's decision. It made no sense, so I freaked out and stayed up until 7AM reading everything I could about the case.

The next day, I was having lunch with my dad in Chipotle, and I asked him, "If there were an innocent man in prison, would you help me free him?" He said to send him the opinion. I did... and he flipped out too.

We got our hands on the record, got in touch with Ray, got him to fire the Innocence Project (which was doing a terrible job), and then spent months scouring the record so we understood every aspect of the case. Together, we drafted a 34-page letter to the Conviction Review Unit (which you can see on the Ehrlich Firm website), which laid out all the evidence of Ray's innocence and also destroyed every aspect of the prosecution's case.

A secretary at the CRU read the letter, freaked out and showed it to Ken Lynch, who realized this was a BFD and assigned his ENTIRE UNIT to the case. They made a recommendation which resulted in a joint LAPD/Sheriff's Department investigation with 4+ detectives working full time.

The wait was excruciating, but after several months the DA's office agreed to admit that they had lost confidence in the conviction because they felt someone else committed the murder. On Thursday, we showed up in court, the State told that to the judge, and Ray got to walk out a free man.

There is now an active investigation to find the real killer. I feel very good about its prospects, but can't comment on the specifics.


Q:

Here's a link to the letter: http://www.ehrlichfirm.com/jennings/Ray-Jennings-Letter-to-CRU-October-2-2015.pdf

Damn fine bit of writing. I can see why it got their attention. Well done.

A:

Thank you. We worked really, really hard on it, under extreme time pressure. If I had it to do over, I would change some things. But what matters is that it worked! :)


Q:

How is Mr. Jennings?

Ps: excellent work!

A:

Ray is obviously thrilled. But to be honest, you can barely tell the difference, because he had SUCH a good attitude whenever I visited him in prison.

He truly believes that God is watching over him and that everything will work out in the end. If I'd lost 11 years of my life, I would be bitter and angry. But he just radiates happiness and gratitude. It's truly inspirational.


Q:

Are you with Project Innocence?

A:

No, the Innocence Project was representing Ray before I found his case. My dad and I had Ray fire them immediately, because they were doing a TERRIBLE JOB.

If Ray had continued to rely on the Innocence Project, he was going to spend the rest of his life in prison. I respect their intentions. But, at least in this case, they were not remotely competent. It really bummed me out to see firsthand.


Q:

What was the issue with them?

A:

They didn't seem to have any idea Ray was actually innocent. They just did the bare minimum, filing awful documents that didn't answer any of the prosecution's arguments. It was pathetic.


Q:

Did his family stay by his side through the prison term?

A:

Ray's family and friends have always known he was innocent. They are overjoyed that the justice system has finally recognized what was so clear to them for all these years.


Q:

My question is this, you hear often times (not as often as one would hope) that an innocent man has been cleared of his charges. I have a few friends who became lawyers and I know the kind of case load that one can be dealing with. How did you come across this case and decide, "This man is innocent, I am going to do everything I can to have all charges dropped". Essentially, what made this particular case stand out to you in the first place?

A:

That's what was so eerie: I don't do criminal work. It's not as if I was working at an innocence project, reviewing lots of convictions, and this one stood out.

In fact, I don't even watch TV. I have no idea why at midnight I randomly booted up an old Dateline NBC episode on my computer. Call it fate... call it an act of God... call it a coincidence. Either way, it's odd, to say the least.

I got sucked in because the accusation against Ray was so extraordinary. I wanted to know what could drive a non-commissioned officer in the U.S. military to randomly murder a stranger in a parking lot.

By the end of the Dateline episode, I still had no idea. And I certainly had no idea how they proved he was guilty. At first, I was hoping that the problem was just the way the show was edited, so I pulled up the Court of Appeal opinion, hoping to find something that would reassure me about Ray's guilt.

Instead, I became more and more disturbed by the lack of any actual evidence pointing to Ray. It was all vague insinuations and assertions, unsupported by tangible proof. Little did I know how deep the rabbit hole of B.S. would lead...


Q:

What does it feel like to be awesome? Congratulations

A:

One of the things I've learned from this experience is that we all have the capacity to be awesome.

I used to think that you had to be 'a hero' to get an innocent man out of prison. It wasn't the kind of thing I ever aspired to accomplish.

This fell into my lap when I saw the Dateline episode about Ray's case. Once I figured out he was innocent, I felt like I had to do something. So I did.

I didn't risk my life. I didn't endanger my reputation. I just did the right thing and worked really hard.

Trust me: If you want to make a difference in the world, you can. Just find something wrong and work hard to fix it. You will be shocked at how much you can accomplish. I guarantee it.


Q:

How do you feel about the fact that a group of people conspired to ruin this man's life, and probably did, intentionally? Do you think that the prosecutors should maybe be imprisoned for an equal length of time as a result? How is there any justice without correction in the system?

A:

I have given a lot of thought to how this happened. It was truly a cascade of errors, in which so many different parts of the justice system failed.

First, the detectives were grossly incompetent. They failed to follow the most basic principles of police procedure. For example, they only interviewed 2 of the 5 people present at the scene of the crime. And they never thought to run the criminal records of the people present. Facepalm

The DA's office should have refused to pursue the detectives' crazy theory. For five years, that is what they did, based on a total absence of any evidence pointing to Ray.

But something changed. It's possible there was some very high-level corruption involved in this case. More and more pieces of the puzzle have been appearing every day. Keep your eyes on the LA Times. I have a feeling they will break some big news about this all soon.

It's worth noting how many other safeguards also failed. A competent defense lawyer would have crushed the prosecution. A competent trial judge would have thrown the case out. A competent jury would have, at minimum, had reasonable doubt. A competent appellate lawyer would have pointed out the dozens of reversible errors... etc.