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Keker & Van Nest Overturns Murder Conviction

Press Release

Keker & Van Nest LLP is pleased to announce that attorneys Daniel Purcell, Eric MacMichael and Zachary Bookman today convinced Judge Marla Miller of the California Superior Court for the City and County of San Francisco to issue a writ of habeas corpus, vacating the unconstitutional murder conviction of Caramad Conley. Conley has been wrongly imprisoned since 1994 as the result of the San Francisco Police Department’s wholesale suppression of evidence that the essential prosecution witness against Conley was paid thousands of dollars and given other benefits in exchange for his testimony.

This marks the second wrongful conviction that Conley’s lead counsel and Keker & Van Nest partner Daniel Purcell has helped to overturn. In August 2003, Purcell was part of the Keker & Van Nest team that proved that the same San Francisco Police Department officers involved in the Conley case, Earl Sanders and Napoleon Hendrix, had unconstitutionally withheld exculpatory evidence during the trial of John Tennison, winning Tennison’s release. Purcell and other Keker and Van Nest attorneys subsequently brought a civil rights suit on Tennison’s behalf, resulting in a $4.6 million settlement with the City of San Francisco in 2009. 

“This was a simple case,” Purcell said. “For several years before, during, and after Caramad Conley’s trial, the San Francisco police took care of the critical prosecution witness, giving him thousands of dollars in cash and other benefits. Then they suppressed the evidence of those benefits. The prosecutor expressly told Conley’s counsel that any evidence of benefits had been produced, but none of that proof was turned over. Then the police and prosecutor allowed the witness to lie on the stand about receiving benefits. Because Conley’s entire defense depended on impeaching that witness’s testimony, there was no way Conley could have gotten a fair trial under those circumstances. The police and prosecutor did exactly what the Constitution prohibits, and we’re very happy the Court recognized the seriousness of their misconduct. The only way our system can do justice is by holding the State accountable when it breaks the rules.”

In prosecuting Conley, the State claimed that on March 13, 1989, Conley participated in a shooting that killed two San Francisco residents, Roshawn Johnson and Charles Hughes, and left 11 other people injured. Conley was sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole almost entirely based on the testimony of Clifford Polk, who falsely claimed Conley confessed to him. What Polk did not admit, and what Sanders, Hendrix, and San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Alfred Giannini chose to suppress, was that Polk was paid for his testimony. The suppression of this critical evidence was compounded by the State’s consistent assurances to Conley’s trial counsel that all evidence related to Polk’s relationship with the police had been produced, and then further compounded by Polk’s testimony at trial that he was not being compensated for his testimony.

Conley is still being held by the State at Calipatria State Prison in Calipatria, California.  In response to the Superior Court’s grant of the writ of habeas corpus, the State has the option of filing an appeal, retrying Conley for the murders, or agreeing to his immediate release.

In addition to handling legal-malpractice, RICO, fraud, and other complex litigation matters, Purcell maintains an active pro bono practice. In 2003, he was part of the team that won freedom for Tennison, who spent 13 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. In that case, the Keker & Van Nest team unearthed exculpatory evidence hidden by the police, and won Tennison’s freedom via habeas corpus.

The firm’s achievement in winning this result for Conley was made possible by the hard work of Partner Eric MacMichael and Associate Zachary Bookman. MacMichael represents businesses and individuals in white collar criminal matters and complex civil litigation. Bookman represents clients in breach of contract, antitrust, class action, partnership, and patent matters. He has represented clients pro bono in habeas corpus and immigration proceedings.

Keker & Van Nest also thanks the Northern California Innocence Project, who brought this case to the firm’s attention in 2006.