Nineteen years ago, two teenagers went to investigate the scene where a gang shooting associated with the Crips and Bloods had occurred the night before. As they neared the spot, a car drove by and opened fire, killing one of the neighborhood boys and injuring another. John Edward Smith – a Bloods associate who lived near the crime scene – was identified by the injured teenager in court, and was sentenced to serve two life sentences. All the while, Smith claimed to be innocent, stating that he was at his grandmothers house miles away.
The jury did not believe him.
Nineteen years later, someone did. Now Smith is a free man, after a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge vacated his conviction, reports the LA Times.
After Innocence Matters picked up Smith’s case, the fledgling wrongful convictions group found holes in the only witness’s testimony, which convicted Smith of the murder. Then 16-year-old Landu Mvuemba, repeatedly questioned by the police, was allegedly pressured to identify the gunman, whom he saw “for a split second from a distance of 18 feet,” reports the LA Times. After taking the case, Innocence Matters founder, veteran criminal defense attorney Deidre O’Connor, tracked down Mvuemba. And Mvuemba’s story matched Smith’s. According to the LA Times, Mvuemba told O’Connor that police had handcuffed him at his school and taken him in for questioning, telling him that Smith had already been identified. “I felt a lot of pressure to go along with it,” Mvuemba admitted. NBC News reports that Mvuemba knew it was wrong to testify against Smith in court, but “when he saw his deceased friend’s mother crying in the courtroom, he felt as if he had no other choice.” After his testimony in court led to Smith’s imprisonment, Mvuemba allegedly reported his concerns to the LA Police Department Internal Affairs more than once, but was ignored. Mvuemba even maintains that he told the courtroom bailiff as he took the witness stand, but “no one did anything.”
For nineteen years, now 37-year-old Smith maintained his innocence, and walked out of jail Monday night a free man. Of his time in prison, Smith tells The Washington Post, “I had good days and bad days, I stayed hopeful and that’s all I could do. I’m not bitter at all, because that ain’t going to get me nowhere. I’ve got to move on.”
The first thing he’ll do as a free man? See his grandmother.
Watch the full video fromNBC News below: