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CALIFORNIA

Freed inmate loses civil suit

Man says an LAPD detective helped the sole eyewitness to a killing identify him.

November 03, 2011|Jack Leonard
  • Willie Earl Green breaks into tears over his release from prison in March 2008.
Willie Earl Green breaks into tears over his release from prison in March… (Annie Wells / Los Angeles…)

A man who spent nearly 25 years behind bars for a murder he insists he did not commit lost a civil rights lawsuit this week that accused a former detective of misconduct in his criminal case.

A federal jury on Monday unanimously rejected Willie Earl Green's claim that an LAPD detective violated his civil rights during an investigation that led to Green's conviction for the 1983 slaying of a woman at a crack house in South Los Angeles.

"I feel like the system let me down again," Green said in response to the verdict.

Green contended that John Bunch helped the sole eyewitness to the killing -- a convicted murderer and known crack cocaine dealer -- identify Green as one of two men who burst into his home as part of a robbery. During the crime, one of the intruders fatally shot Denise "Dee Dee" Walker.

The shooter was never identified, but prosecutors argued that Green was the second robber. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to 33 years to life.

Years later, the witness, Willie Finley, recanted his identification and Green won the legal backing of Centurion Ministries, a group that advocates for the release of the wrongfully convicted.

In 2008, a judge overturned Green's conviction, concluding that Finley had lied. The judge, who stopped short of declaring Green factually innocent, also found that police improperly tainted the identification by telling Finley about a theft that Green had previously committed against the victim.

Deputy City Atty. Geoffrey Plowden said Bunch, who went on to join the Ventura County district attorney's office before retiring, did not help the witness make an identification.

Finley, the attorney noted, reviewed other photos of potential suspects without making an identification. The detective was careful to note in his reports that Finley's identification of Green's photo was only tentative, a move inconsistent with coaching the witness, Plowden said.

James D. Owen, Green's lead attorney, said two jurors told him after the civil trial that they believed Green was wrongfully convicted but that Bunch was not to blame. Owen said the lawsuit was the best chance for Green to obtain compensation for the years he spent behind bars.

Green, who lives in Fresno, said he has been working since his release for a company that helps monitor people on probation and provide them with counseling and other support. He said he earns $11.50 an hour.

jack.leonard@latimes.com

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