28 Years in Prison: Man Freed from Wrongful Conviction

Roeling Adams walked out of San Quentin State Prison a free man after he spent 28 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Earlier this year, the California Department of Corrections granted parole for Adams, a California Innocence Project (CIP) client. The parole board relied heavily on a declaration secured by the California Innocence Project supporting Adams’ innocence claim. This week, Governor Jerry Brown chose not to overturn the board’s decision, leading to Adams’ release.

Adams was wrongfully convicted of a shooting in 1986. He provided an alibi at trial and has always maintained his innocence. In an effort to protect the true culprits, the main prosecution witness testified Adams was responsible. This witness later recanted and identified the true perpetrators.

“One of the leading causes of wrongful conviction is misidentification,” says Justin Brooks, Director of the California Innocence Project. “I am so pleased that Roeling finally has his freedom after 28 years of wrongful incarceration.”

After the main prosecution witness recanted, the California Innocence Project, with the help of parole attorney Jeffrey Taft, helped secure Adams’ freedom through the parole process. Adams will move into transitional housing to ease him back into society.

About the California Innocence Project
The California Innocence Project is a California Western School of Law clinical program dedicated to the release of wrongfully convicted inmates and providing an outstanding educational experience for students enrolled in the clinic. The California Innocence Project receives approximately 2,000 claims from inmates each year and has earned the exoneration of 11 wrongfully convicted clients since its inception.

Finding essentials of life for those who’ve missed so much

Article By Lois Henry – The Bakersfield California

We’ve all seen those stories of people who spend 20 years or more behind bars and are then exonerated by new evidence.

If you’re like me, you momentarily ponder the immense loss of years, shake your head and move on.

For Jack Cummings, who stared down the barrel of losing his own freedom to bogus charges 30 years ago, he couldn’t move on. He didn’t want to.

“I decided I wanted to do something for all the people like those that this happened to in Bakersfield,” he said.

He referred to the notorious molestation ring cases from the mid-1980’s in which dozens of people were convicted for hundreds of years of the most gruesome child molestation charges.

Nearly all those cases were overturned, but not before some defendants spent 10, 12, even 20 years in prison.

In a very few of those cases, lawsuits yielded millions of dollars. Most defendants who sued got a pittance, or nothing at all.

They had to start their lives over from scratch, often with looming attorney’s bills and scant opportunities for employment, given the taint to their names.

Cummings and his wife, then Jackie Nokes, weren’t convicted.

They saw what was coming as friends and acquaintances got sentences of 40 years and more.

In 1984, they packed up their three boys and fled. By the time they were picked up in Northern California, they’d had time to get the grand jury involved, hire investigators, take polygraphs and get their story out.

Still, their boys were put in foster care for about a year and their workaday lives stopped while they grappled with the Kern County justice system.

It set them back. As it did all the families.

That memory stayed with Cummingses, who got involved with the Northern California Innocence Project as it worked for John Stoll’s release.

Stoll got out after 20 years and eventually won a $5.5 million settlement from Kern County on top of a $700,000 settlement from the state.

That’s not common.

“Most exonerees get nothing when they get out of prison,” Cummings said. Lawsuits can be costly and extremely time-consuming, and it’s difficult to find lawyers to take them on.

So along with Alicia Samis, a psychology teacher in the Bay Area, and Maurice Caldwell, an exoneree who spent 20 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, Cummings created Life Beyond Freedom.

The group’s goal is to help people freed from prison get started in life with things like housing, jobs, medical care, education — the basics.

“Parolees are better served than people who didn’t do the crime but did the time,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell was convicted in 1990 of murder. About three years ago, another inmate confessed to the crime and the San Francisco County District Attorney’s Office dismissed the case against Caldwell. Caldwell is now suing San Francisco.

He was in so long, he said, he lost most of his family while incarcerated. His only living relative is a sister who has helped, along with Cummings and Beyond Freedom.

“We’re working with exonerees all over the state,” explained Samis. “We don’t have any official partnerships, but we ­definitely seek out partners for everything from housing to counseling. Each of us is putting together different parts of the ­puzzle.”

It’s taken a while to get everything in place, including nonprofit status and the website, which is still a work in progress, according to Samis.

Beyond Freedom works with the Innocence Project to vet exoneree cases.

“This program is exactly what we’ve needed,” said Raquel Cohen, an attorney with the California Innocence Project. “We are one of the bigger innocence projects, but our mission is to get them out of prison and our resources are limited.”

Once they’re out, she said, any help with expenses, or just support, is extremely valuable.

Beyond Freedom is hoping to start getting donations, services or help with jobs soon as the ranks of exonerees is growing all the time.

In particular, Cummings is hoping to find a job and housing for Roeling Adams here in Bakersfield. Adams is currently in the Bay Area but is hoping to transfer here for better housing costs while he works and goes to school.

Adams and his brother were convicted of murder in 1985. Another man confessed to the killing long ago but was ignored back in the 1980s.

He confessed again in 2008 before the Board of Parole Hearings and a commissioner pushed to have the case against the Adamses reopened.

Adams’ brother, who had always maintained his innocence, was released four years ago.

But Adams was initially denied release by the parole board because in his early years he’d been advised by an attorney not to claim he was innocent.

“He said it would go against me and they’d keep me for life,” Adams told me.

When the confession came to light, Adams came before the parole board again but was denied because he’d lied about being guilty in previous hearings.

“They said, ‘You were just telling us anything to get out of prison,’” Adams said, chuckling at the memory.

Six months later, on Oct. 10, 2014, they let Adams out. But his conviction remains.

The Innocence Project is still working on Adams’ case.

Like Caldwell, Adams praised Cummings and the Beyond Freedom program. He had nothing when he got out, not even an ID. Cummings bought his books for class and even paid for two of his field trips.

Samis said sometimes it’s hard to remember how many years these men have lost. She was working with Caldwell to help find him housing and tried to talk him through the Internet.

“I’d say, just Google ‘housing authority’ and he was like ‘What? Whoa, whoa, whoa!’ He missed a lot.”

Contact Californian columnist Lois Henry at 395-7373 or lhenry@bakersfield.com. Her work appears on Sundays and Wednesdays; the views expressed are her own.
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George Souliotes spent nearly 17 years behind bars before his triple murder conviction was overturned. Now he’s trying to adjust to life on the outside.

or the first several days of his freedom, George Souliotes kept forgetting to zip up his trousers. Prison jumpsuits don’t have zippers.

The 72-year-old left lights on at night, unaccustomed to having control over a light switch.

He stiffened whenever he accidentally brushed up against someone. Bumping into another prisoner could get him stabbed.

He had spent nearly 17 years behind bars for a triple murder conviction. A federal judge overturned the conviction after an innocence hearing, and now Souliotes was having to relearn life.

Most mornings, the Greek immigrant sat in the sunshine at a Glendale park. His son gave him a smartphone, and he labored doggedly over it. “I love the lady who helps me find my way,” he said of the GPS feature. He also signed up for a class to learn how to use a computer.

At St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Souliotes mingled with other Greek immigrants, many of whom had followed his case. People wanted to know about prison, but he didn’t like talking about it.

He wanted to forget the stabbings — he saw 17 in one day during a riot in the yard. He wanted to forget the spaghetti that came in a clump and had to be sliced. He wanted to forget the nights he cried into a towel so no one would hear.

“I want to quit talking about these things,” he said. “The past is gone.”

Freedom came to Souliotes on July 3.

Convicted of setting a fire that killed three of his tenants, Souliotes entered prison a middle-aged man, his wavy brown hair starting to recede. When he left, his hair was gray and mostly gone, his posture stooped and his gait marked by a limp from a bad hip. He was divorced, and his children were grown.

An innocence project accepted his case 10 years ago, and private lawyers from big-name firms worked pro bono to overturn his conviction. The forensic evidence used to convict him was reexamined, and much was discredited.

No matter what, I have to explain that I was a prisoner. … They look at you with that fear.”

— George Souliotes

Michelle Jones, 30, and her two children, Daniel Jr., 6, and Amanda, 3, tenants in Souliotes’ Modesto rental home, died when the house erupted in flames as they slept. Daniel Jones Sr., the husband and father, was not home at the time. Souliotes had been days away from serving the Joneses with an eviction notice and garnishing their wages for unpaid rent.

Prosecutors, seeking the death penalty, had argued that Souliotes burned the house for insurance money and maintained that a petroleum substance on his shoes matched a compound that ignited the fire. “The shoes tell the tale,” the trial prosecutor told jurors. Souliotes was sentenced to life without parole. Years later a scientist proved there was no match.

The federal judge who decided Souliotes had shown “actual innocence” overturned his conviction on the grounds his trial lawyer had failed him.

After the ruling, prosecutors wanted to retry him for murder, but the state conceded during the appeal that it could not prove the fire was deliberately set, and a second conviction appeared unlikely.

In return for his immediate release, Souliotes pleaded no contest to three counts of involuntary manslaughter for failing to maintain working smoke detectors. The house had a smoke alarm, but the victims died of smoke inhalation.

The legal odyssey was over, but Souliotes’ journey back to life was just beginning.

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