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Inmate Exonerated in '06 Oakland Shooting

San Francisco Chronicle

A man who has spent nearly seven years in prison for a shooting in West Oakland is on the brink of being released after his attorneys argued he was the innocent victim of shoddy police work and lying witnesses who have since recanted.

Alameda County prosecutors, who put 51-year-old Ronald Ross in state prison for attempted murder and assault with a firearm, conceded Friday that his conviction should not stand and said they would ask a Superior Court judge to free him.

"The district attorney doesn't have confidence the verdict was fully supported given all of the circumstances," said Assistant District Attorney Micheal O'Connor.

Friday's developments mean that Ross, who has been serving a sentence of 25 years to life at San Quentin State Prison, is probably days away from the end of an unusual and lengthy legal saga.

Ross, who had no record of violence, was arrested by Oakland police after the shooting victim, Renardo Williams, picked him out of a lineup of six photos, Ross' attorneys said.

Bedside lineup

They said police showed the lineup to him at his hospital bedside three days after he was shot in front of his apartment at the Campbell Village complex on April 15, 2006.

Ross' attorneys said he had been included in the lineup because of a loose connection - his mother had, years earlier, lived in the same building as a woman whose family was in a dispute with Williams when he was shot.

But the lawyers said Williams now admits he never thought Ross was the shooter and implicated him only because he was pressured by police and feared the real gunman - the father of a boy Williams had beaten with a stick a day earlier - would come after him.

That man, Steven Embrey Sr., is now at Santa Rita Jail, accused of an Oakland crime spree in July 2011 in which he allegedly shot a man and fired upon another while pulling street robberies in a bulletproof vest.

"They never investigated the dad," said Elliot Peters, one of Ross' attorneys. "They never put him in a photo spread. We don't know why."

Another lawyer, Linda Starr, said, "This is one of the tragedies of wrongful convictions. The actual perpetrator is out there committing other offenses."

The investigating officer, Sgt. Steven Lovell, who has retired from the Oakland force, did not return a telephone message Friday.

Sgt. Chris Bolton, chief of staff for Police Chief Howard Jordan, said: "If there's any issue with how one of our officers conducted a lineup, that's something we'll take a look at."

The other two eyewitnesses who testified against Ross at his trial were 14-year-old boys. Ross' attorneys say one didn't see the shooting and the other was Embrey's son.

According to the attorneys, the son now says the gunman was his father - who was angry at Williams for the stick beating.

Judge Jon Rolefson said during Friday's hearing that prosecutors must turn in an amended response to Ross' petition to toss the conviction. At a hearing next Friday, Rolefson could grant the petition, then order Ross released.

Ross, who is in Santa Rita Jail after being brought back from San Quentin, smiled in court as his attorneys explained his case was nearing an end. Wearing a yellow shirt, glasses, a mustache and his long hair in a ponytail, he did not speak.

Outside court, his mother, 77-year-old Thelma Ross, said she was angry that he would be held for another week but was "excited and overwhelmed" that he had been exonerated. At her son's trial, jurors had ignored her testimony that, at the time of the shooting, he had been at home with her.

"I blame the system," Thelma Ross said. "It ain't right what they did. Seven years of his life is gone. They ought to be ashamed of themselves."

Free representation

Ronald Ross was given free representation by attorneys from the San Francisco law firm Keker and Van Nest and the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University. Their four-year probe was led by McArthur Investigations of Oakland.

The lawyers said the case was symptomatic of problems with eyewitness identifications, which stand as one of the chief causes of wrongful convictions around the nation.

They said Ross, shocked by his conviction in 2006, had cried during his sentencing and shouted, "I had nothing to do with this."