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Man Is Cleared in 1 Case, Jailed in 2nd

After a DNA test frees Leonard McSherry and he gets $481,000 for his 13 years in prison, he faces new charges.

May 01, 2003|Daniel Hernandez and Monte Morin | Times Staff Writers

It should have been a day of sweet vindication for Leonard McSherry.

After McSherry served 13 years in prison for a crime he insisted he didn't commit, Gov. Gray Davis cut him a check for almost half a million dollars as compensation for being wrongly imprisoned. The state agreed to pay the sum after a DNA test performed last year showed he was innocent of raping a 6-year-old girl in 1988.

But as the governor announced the settlement Tuesday, McSherry was sitting in a downtown Los Angeles jail cell.

He was arrested April 10 in connection with loitering around a Beverly Hills elementary school and ordered held on $250,000 bail. He has pleaded not guilty to five counts of misdemeanor loitering. His attorney, Mark Overland, declined to comment.

The arrest caught the governor's office off-guard Wednesday.

"I don't know what to say about that," Davis spokesman Byron Tucker said when told by a reporter about McSherry's status. "This appears to be an unfortunate and rather ironic twist of fate for Mr. McSherry; however, his current situation is in no way reflected in the claim he is entitled to."

McSherry's arrest comes as he is suing the city of Long Beach in federal court for false arrest. Even though McSherry, 53, was cleared of one molestation, Long Beach officials point out that he has a long criminal record, including three other molestations, a kidnapping and an indecent-exposure conviction dating to 1969.

"I never thought this guy should have been released in the first place," said William Reidder, a Long Beach city attorney. "If someone is stupid enough to pay this man, there's nothing I can do about it. I hope his prior victims file a lien against it."

Davis' office released a statement Tuesday saying the governor had signed a $2.4-million appropriations bill that compensated almost 600 people with various claims against the state -- claims that included unfair imprisonment and uncollected tax refunds. The statement named only two of the recipients: McSherry and Frederick Daye, who was exonerated of kidnapping and rape charges by DNA testing.

McSherry "was incarcerated from October 1988 to December 2001 for a crime he did not commit, which was supported by DNA evidence discovered by the California Department of Justice," Tucker said.

McSherry will receive $481,200, or $100 for each day he was in custody, all tax-free. The money will be paid through the victim's compensation and government claims board, officials said.

McSherry could not be reached for comment.

His odyssey through the criminal justice system began long before a jury convicted him in 1988 of raping a young girl at a Navy housing complex in Long Beach.

In the 15 years prior to that, McSherry had been arrested and prosecuted a half-dozen times for alleged crimes. He had become so notorious among sex crimes investigators in Long Beach that police placed him under around-the-clock surveillance for three weeks in 1986.

This intense scrutiny became the core of McSherry's defense in 1988 after he was accused of raping the Long Beach girl. The investigation and trial occurred in the early days of DNA evidence, and although McSherry was given the option of admitting such evidence into his trial, he waived that right. Prosecutors charged that he had taken the girl to his grandmother's house and assaulted her there.

The victim picked McSherry out of a lineup. She described the scene of her assault in detail, claiming there was a photograph of her attacker on the wall. In fact, a police search turned up a photograph of McSherry's grandfather on a bedroom wall, an image that bore a striking resemblance to the defendant, prosectors said.

McSherry adamantly maintained his innocence. In a 1986 interview with the Long Beach Press-Telegram, he said: "They've got me painted out as some ... Jack the Ripper. Because of my past, I don't blame the police [for thinking] it could happen again.... It will never happen again."

After he served 13 years, a testing lab in Maryland compared McSherry's DNA with genetic material found at the rape scene. They did not match. However, the sperm found on the little girl did match that of another prison inmate, George Valdespino, 60, who is serving 45 years to life for the 1997 kidnapping and molestation of another young girl.

After being freed, McSherry sought and won a ruling of factual innocence in 2002. That finding, however, failed to spare him from public scrutiny.

When he attempted to move into his parents' home in Irvine, neighbors protested. Angry parents picketed the home on a weekly basis and threatened to sue the former inmate for allegedly lowering their property values. McSherry secluded himself in his parents' home for a time, insisting that he posed no threat. After two months, he moved out.

At the time of his April arrest, McSherry was listed as living in Santa Monica.

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Times staff writer Li Fellers contributed to this report.

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