Rina Palta / KPCC
John Edward Smith, moments after walking out of law enforcement custody for the first time in 19 years. Smith was exonerated of a 1993 murder charge in an L.A. drive-by shooting.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck responded Tuesday to the case of John Edward Smith, a man wrongfully convicted of murder and attempted murder in a 1993 drive-by shooting in the Mid City neighborhood. Smith was exonerated Monday and walked out of Men's Central Jail that evening a free man for the first time in 19 years.
Smith's 1994 conviction was based on a single eyewitness identification. Months after the incident, the second victim of the drive-by, who sustained serious injuries, pegged Smith as the shooter. That witness later recanted his testimony, saying police had pressured him into fingering Smith, who was at that time a member of a street gang.
"I have been briefed on the facts of this case," Beck - who was not chief at the time of the incident - said in a statement. "As a result, I have directed Gerald Chaleff, our Special Assistant for Constitutional Policing and former criminal defense attorney, to form a team to thoroughly investigate the circumstances of this case."
Rina Palta / KPCC
John Edward Smith walked out of Men's Central Jail after spending 19 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit.
In 1993, John Edward Smith was a gang member. That's probably, his attorney said, why he was convicted of a murder he didn't commit. Smith spent 19 years in prison for murder and attempted murder in a Mid City drive-by shooting that claimed the life of 16-year-old DeAnthony Williams and left Landu Mvuemba critically injured. Months later, Mvuemba identified Smith as the shooter and eventually testified against him in court. Mvuemba later recanted his testimony, telling attorneys he felt pressured by police to peg Smith.
On Monday, L.A. Superior Court Judge Patricia Schnegg vacated Smith's conviction, bringing an end to a two-year legal process.
"We had no idea it would take that long," said Deirdre O'Conner, Smith's attorney, and founder of Innocence Matters, a non-profit in Torrance devoted to freeing inmates who've been wrongfully convicted.