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Dan Purcell Discusses How Compensation From Innocence Board is Rare

Daily Journal

A judge concluded John Tennison and Antoine Goff spent nearly 14 years of their lives behind bars for a gang murder they didn't commit. No physical evidence tied them to the scene, a judge found. The prosecution's only witnesses were 11- and 16-year-old girls who gave inconsistent testimony. One girl later recanted her testimony and told police she didn't see the shooting and she wasn't even at the scene.

And in key exculpatory evidence prosecutors never disclosed to Goff's and Tennison's defense attorneys before their 1990 trial, two other witnesses contradicted the testimony of the young girls. Another woman told police that a different man committed the murder. That man confessed to police in a taped interview that the defense - and jury - never got to hear.

A federal judge ordered Tennison's and Goff's release in 2004, and they won a 104-page ruling of "factual innocence" from a state superior court judge that was supported by San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan.

But the year of the men's release, an obscure administrative law tribunal refused to compensate them for the more than 4,000 days they each say they were wrongly imprisoned. The hearing officer concluded that the men failed to prove their innocence and were thus ineligible.

And even if they did prove their innocence, the hearing officer concluded, the men weren't entitled to compensation because they didn't waive their Fifth Amendment rights to cooperate with the police investigation, thus contributing to their incarceration.

"It seemed the deck was stacked against us the moment we showed up," said Tennison's pro bono attorney, Daniel Purcell of Keker & Van Nest LLP in San Francisco.

Goff's and Tennison's cases are illustrative, criminal defense lawyers say, of a broken law that was meant to quickly and efficiently compensate wrongfully convicted prisoners but only created more bureaucratic hurdles.

In addition to his complex civil and criminal litigation practice, Mr. Purcell co-chairs Keker & Van Nest’s pro bono committee. Through his efforts, he ensures the firm meets its pro bono commitment, and consistently exceeds the five percent pro bono standard few firms even approach.