Obie Anthony walked out of Los Angeles County jail Tuesday night amid the cheers and tears of his family, friends and attorneys who worked to overturn his 1995 murder conviction. It was the first time he’d stepped freely in nearly two decades — since he was 19 years old.
“I’m so, so, so relieved to be free,” a beaming Anthony said. “I knew from the very beginning that justice would come,” he added. “I just had to wait for her to be born.”
Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kelvin Filer concluded that the prosecution’s key witness lied on the witness stand. There was no physical evidence linking him to the 1994 murder outside a South L.A. brothel for which he was convicted.
Asked if he was angry at the justice system, Anthony said no. “Anger is not a word I would use,” he said.
Anthony, now 37, said he still believes in the justice system — his release, he said, is proof that it works. His criticism: some police and prosecutors place “winning before justice.”
Even as she celebrated her brother’s release, Anthony’s older sister criticized LAPD detectives and local prosecutors.
“You wrecked our family while you went home to your family every night,” Yolanda Taylor said.
“This case represents a failure in many ways,” Linda Starr of the Northern California Innocence Project said. She said the star prosecution witness, a pimp who faced criminal charges of his own, was motivated to lie because he cut a deal with prosecutors.
“The district attorney’s own files indicated he had gotten a deal in exchange for his testimony.” She said prosecutors didn’t reveal the deal to the jury and only admitted it in March of last year. Starr said the witness now says he never got a clear view of the shooter.
Taylor praised the judge for ordering her brother’s release. “He brought me a little more faith in our justice system.”
Along with family and friends, a gaggle of law school students surrounded Anthony as he came out of jail. They worked on his case through Loyola Law School’s Project for the Innocent and under the tutelage of Professor Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor.
“I’m so happy for Obie,” Levenson said as Anthony and her embraced. “Obie, have a wonderful life.”
“I thank them for coming to my rescue and giving me life again,” Anthony said of Loyola and the Northern California Innocence Project.
Anthony said he’s looking forward to starting a new life with his wife, a woman he knew in high school and married three years ago while still in prison. He’s also anxious to see a Lakers game.
But mostly, Anthony talked about going to school to learn how to be an investigator — so he can turn around and help other people who’ve been wrongly convicted.
“I’m going to do everything I can to make them proud,” he said, referring to the attorneys who helped win his release.
Anthony also spoke briefly about how he faced the mental challenges of being locked up in the overcrowded and violent California prison system.
“In prison, you don’t need to be who they tell you you are,” he said. “I read a lot of poetry and Roy Masters books.” Masters writes self-help books.
Anthony said he also read about childhood maltreatment and how you can identify the issues that anger you and “get a grip” on them.