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County Won't Dispute Ex-Prisoner's Innocence

July 12, 2006|Joe Mozingo | Times Staff Writer

Attorneys for Riverside County told a U.S. district judge in Los Angeles on Tuesday they would not contest the innocence of a man who served 12 years for a rape and robbery he did not commit and who is now suing the county for wrongful conviction.

Herman Atkins, now 40, was released from prison in early 2000 after DNA analysis ruled him out as the source of semen on the rape victim's sweater. At the time, Riverside County Dist. Atty. Grover Trask II declared him innocent.

But in declarations in the civil case, private lawyers defending the county suggested that the DNA evidence was questionable and should not be admitted at the upcoming trial, now scheduled to begin Aug. 29.

Atkins' lawsuit alleges that a Riverside County sheriff's detective fabricated evidence and misrepresented proof in court to secure a conviction. The DNA analysis that ultimately exonerated him was not available during his 1988 criminal trial.

In the hearing Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson asked the defense if it planned to contest Atkins' innocence. "We are not going to dispute Mr. Atkins' innocence in the trial," replied attorney Arthur K. Cunningham.

His co-counsel argued, however, that the evidence of Atkins' innocence was not relevant in the wrongful-conviction case because the DNA technology was not available at the time of the prosecution. Atkins' attorney, Peter Neufeld, argued that his undisputed innocence was critical to the case.

Anderson did not rule on whether the DNA evidence is admissible. He denied a motion by attorneys to preclude the defense from disputing Atkins' innocence.

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