Members of the California Innocence Project and the fiancé of a man who has served a wrongful prison sentence delivered 100,000 petition signatures Monday asking for his release after a federal judge overruled his conviction.
Daniel Larsen, now 45, was convicted in 1999 of being a felon in possession of a concealed weapon after two police officers testified that they saw Larsen throw a knife under a car.
Larsen already had two prior strikes on his record for burglary; the third conviction led to a 27-years-to-life prison sentence.
But then, in 2009, the California Innocence Project presented two new witnesses, a former chief of police of a North Carolina town and his wife. They both said they never saw Larsen grab or throw a knife.
“It’s an eyewitness to the event," said Jan Stiglitz, Larsen's lead attorney. "One that was never produced at trial because Daniel Larsen’s lawyer was constitutionally and practically deficient."
A federal magistrate judge then overturned Larsen’s conviction and concluded he was deprived of his constitutional right to effective assistance to counsel. Another judge, this one for the district court, agreed with the magistrate and ordered Larsen released. 0
But the State Attorney General's Office has now filed an appeal to the ruling, arguing that Larsen failed to file federal habeas action within a one-year deadline.
“A federal habeas petition filed even one day late is untimely and must be dismissed,” according to the appeal.
The appeal also argues that Larsen failed to produce evidence that proves his “actual innocence,” instead creating reasonable doubt that he did not commit the crime.
“It’s reflexive, it’s just what they do,” said Stiglitz of the Attorney General's appeal. “They have never been willing to sit down and interview our witnesses.”
Stiglitz said the California Innocence Project has now asked for a meeting with the Attorney General. He believes they will probably meet within a week or so.
“He’s a believer now,” said Christina Combs of her fiancé, Daniel Larsen. Combs joined the California Innocence Project in delivering the petitions to the Attorney General’s office.
Combs said she visits Larsen every Sunday in prison. They met 15 years ago, but reconnected about two years ago.
“He was getting very discouraged over this past year every time [the Attorney General’s office] would file an extension," said Combs. "But with what’s going on this week and over the past two weeks with the petition, he believes now. And he’s coming home and he knows it."
She said she and Larsen plan to be married September 7 in Lancaster at the prison where he is being held.