Justice served? Thanks to a corrupt system and false testimonies, 37-year-old John Edward Smith has been in jail…serving 19 years of his TWO life term sentences for murder. What’s got us so angry about this case is the LAPD’s internal affairs department ignored polygraph tests and repeated reports made by the witness; admitting before and after the sentencing that he’d falsely accused Smith.
“I had days when I was really frustrated, but I knew I couldn’t stop,” John Edward Smith said of his bid for release in a phone interview minutes after he walked out a free man. He said he was most dazed by the lights of downtown Los Angeles and Staples Center, and was looking forward to going home and hugging his grandmother. Smith said he was putting the details of his case out of his mind and focusing on the small steps to rebuild a life on the outside, like getting a driver’s license.
During 19 years behind bars, Smith, a 37-year-old former gang member, adamantly maintained his innocence in the drive-by shooting, insisting that he was miles away at his grandmother’s house at the time of the crime. His claims went unheard until three years ago, when a fledgling wrongful convictions group, Innocence Matters, took his case and identified problems with the testimony of the lone witness to identify him as the killer. The man subsequently recanted and at a brief and raucous hearing Monday afternoon, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge vacated his conviction.
Smith’s relatives and friends erupted in cheers as Judge Patricia Schnegg, the supervising criminal judge, said she was setting aside the 1995 verdict because Smith’s conviction rested almost entirely on perjured testimony….The judge’s ruling came after the district attorney’s office completed its own yearlong investigation and determined that the witness, a high school student injured in the shooting, had lied on the stand. That teenager, Landu Mvuemba, told Smith’s lawyers that LAPD detectives had pressured him into the identification and that he had tried on a number of occasions over the years to alert authorities about his false statements.
Smith offered the jury an alibi: He was with a girlfriend and two others at his grandmother’s house nearly three miles away. But the jury believed Mvuemba, convicting Smith of murder and attempted murder after three hours of deliberations. He was given two life sentences.
Smith’s family, including his grandmother Laura Neal, firmly believed in his innocence. At one point, his grandparents mortgaged their house to pay an appellate law firm $65,000.
Mvuemba said he soon regretted it and reported his concerns to LAPD internal affairs twice. He even told the courtroom bailiff as he prepared to take the witness stand, he said. No one did anything, he said. He and Smith later took polygraph tests. Both passed.
Outside the courthouse, Smith’s grandmother, a frail women who uses a walker, said she had willed herself to stay alive until he was free. “There was a part of me that was in there too,” she said of his prison stay. “I am free now.”
It’s sad that one false testimony can have such a heavy impact on your life. We’d like to think the LAPD might feel some repercussion after ignoring Mvuemba and other members of Smith’s family for so many years…but we know what kind of world we live in.
Images via KTLA