It was a moment of high drama, culminating years of dreams deferred. Clarence Chance and Benny Powell had long maintained that they were unjustly imprisoned for a murder they didn't commit. But after 17 years behind bars, would anyone listen?
Judge Florence-Marie Cooper's decision was wise: "Nothing can be done to return to you the years irretrievably lost. My genuine hope . . . is that you can spend the remainder of your lives not consumed by bitterness . . . but in full and abundant pursuit of all a life of freedom has to offer you. . . . Mr. Powell and Mr. Chance, you are free men."
It was a fairy-tale ending to a story full of pathos, disturbing questions about a police investigation, and irrepressible determination.
Chance and Powell were convicted in the 1973 murder of an off-duty Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy. They were convicted, their attorneys said, because they were framed by Los Angeles Police Department investigators who withheld evidence pointing to their innocence. The exonerating evidence included verification of Chance's alibi placing him in jail at the time the murder occurred and statements by witnesses who later said LAPD detectives pressured them to testify against Chance and Powell.
Even the district attorney's office joined with the defense in asking that Chance and Powell be released and their convictions expunged.
Yet Police Chief Daryl F. Gates, at a news conference, was defensive and graceless, suggesting that somehow it was the LAPD, and not Chance and Powell, that had been "sandbagged."
Nevertheless Powell and Chance are free men thanks in large part to Jim McCloskey, a New Jersey lay minister who believed in them and worked tirelessly in helping right a terrible wrong.