CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Sunday, February 11, 2007

CrimProf Justin Brooks and His California Innocence Project Helps Exonerate and Innocent Man

Brooks_1After serving more than 20 years in jail for a murder he did not commit, Timothy Atkins’ conviction was overturned when the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law petitioned Judge Michael Tynan to consider new evidence that proved Atkins’ innocence. 

“Timothy Atkins is an innocent man who has spent the majority of his life incarcerated for a crime he did not commit,” said California Western CrimProf Justin Brooks, director of the California Innocence Project and Atkins’ lead attorney.   “Judge Tynan should be praised for revisiting this case so many years later and making things right.”

Atkins was convicted of one count of murder and two counts of robbery on July 28, 1987, after being identified by a frightened woman who witnessed her husband being shot in the chest during an attempted carjacking. The police were led to Atkins when a woman named Denise Powell told police that Atkins had confessed to being an accomplice in the killing.

Recently, in a Los Angeles courtroom, Denise Powell testified that she fabricated the story of Atkins’ confession. In recanting testimony that helped convict Atkins, Powell said she made the confession up and was afraid of changing her story after lying to police.

In addition to the recantation of Powell’s testimony, the original defense attorney, David Wesley, also took the witness stand to bat for the man’s innocence.

“Although it has taken way too long and Tim can never get the years back, we are thrilled that the court has recognized that Timothy Atkins’ conviction cannot stand,” said California Western Professor Jan Stiglitz, co-director of the California Innocence Project. “We really appreciate that Judge Tynan was willing to give Atkins a hearing. Sadly, in many cases we cannot even get that far.”

This is the fifth client that has been released by the work of the California Innocence Project. Of more than 300 documented cases of wrongful conviction in the U.S., nearly two-thirds are the result of erroneous identification.  Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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I think it's a stretch to go from "doubt concerning whether this witness was telling the truth" to "the defendant is an innocent man." At best, this case shows that enough doubt was raised to cause the judge to be unconfident in the former verdict. It does not prove actual innocence, such as a definitive DNA result pointing to another suspect would.

There are many reasons witnesses recant, and some recant for dishonest reasons.

Posted by: Tom McKenna | Feb 12, 2007 1:30:14 PM

Dear Mr. Justin Brooks,
My name is Vivian, and I needed to get a hold of you, because my husband Mr. Nicholas Fox has been wrongly convicted, and has been serving 14 years for a crime he didn't commit. We recieved a copy of a newspaper ad where Mr. Atkins has been released from L.A. due to his witness finally admitting that he was not the murderer. My husband found one of his witnesses and the witness is willing to speak. All we need is to take my husband's case back to court. We know that the innocence project has helped several people, and we like to know if there is anything that you can do for us. My husband sent in his information about a year ago. He hasn't received a response, so we were wondering if you can help us out. We really appreciate you taking the time to read this. We pray that you can help us out. Thank you, Mrs. Vivian Fox

Posted by: Mrs. Vivian Fox | Apr 4, 2007 10:18:09 PM

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