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Man ruled innocent by judge still ‘rotting in prison,’ backers say

August 20, 2012 |  9:12 am

The fiancée and supporters of a man they say has wrongly served nearly 14 years in prison will present more than 90,000 signatures to the California Attorney General's office Monday, hoping to apply pressure for the man's release.

Daniel Larsen was sentenced to 27 years to life under California's three-strikes law, after a judge found Larsen guilty of possession of a concealed weapon in 1999. But in 2010, a federal judge declared Larsen innocent and reversed his conviction. The judge said Larsen's attorney was incompetent and that Larsen never received constitutionally fair representation.

Supporters, including the California Innocence Project, have been fighting for his release. On Monday, Larsen's fiancée, Christina Combs, as well as Bryan Banks, the NFL hopeful who was exonerated earlier this year after spending five years in prison, plan to hold a rally to raise awareness about Larsen's plight.

The California Attorney General's office has appealed the federal judge's ruling on grounds that Larsen never deserved a reversal in federal court because he missed his deadline for filing a writ of habeas corpus, which should have been filed within a year of his sentencing.

"And meanwhile Danny is rotting in prison," said Jan Stiglitz, co-director of the California Innocence Project.

On a June night in 1998, police officers responded to a call that shots had been fired outside of the Gold Apple Bar in Los Angeles. Officers reported that they saw Larsen toss a knife underneath a nearby car. A subsequent search turned up a six-inch double-edged knife. A jury later found Larsen guilty of being an ex-felon in possession of a weapon -– he had two prior felonies for burglary.

But the California Innocence Project dug up witnesses who contradicted that story, including a former law enforcement official who said he stood within five feet of Larsen and saw another man throw the knife under the car.

Stiglitz said Larsen's attorney never carried out basic procedures -– like hire an investigator to find witnesses who could have proved or raised doubt that he was carrying a weapon.

"If he had done his work and contacted these witnesses," Stiglitz said of Larsen's attorney, "then he would have been able to prove that Danny hadn't thrown the knife under the car."

By the time these witnesses were brought to the Innocence Project, the deadline for filing the writ of habeas corpus had passed.

Stiglitz said Larsen shouldn't be held in prison because of a legal technicality, especially after a federal judge reversed his sentence.

The attorney general's office did not return calls seeking comment.

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--Weston Phippen

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