Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

Second-year USC law student wins woman's release

March 27, 2009 |  6:12 pm

Because of the efforts of a second-year USC law student, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced Friday that he will allow the release of a woman who has spent 29 years in prison for sitting in a car while her husband robbed and killed a liquor store owner.

Connie Keel, who had been convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, was at the California Institution for Women for nearly three decades. In May 2008, Adam Reich took on her case as part of the USC Gould School of Law’s Post-Conviction Justice Project.

Reich said that Keel was an abused wife who, at the time of the 1980 killing, was unable to "disobey her armed, abusive husband.”

At the parole hearing, Reich argued that Keel was fully rehabilitated; that she had served 29 years for what he termed “a crime of inaction,” and that she was a battered wife. “Had an expert presented evidence of such at her trial, it’s likely she would not have faced as stiff a sentence as she did,” Reich said in an interview.

On Friday, Schwarzenegger sent a letter to Keel saying that he would not reverse a parole board’s recommendation in October to release Keel, now 50. It is likely she will now be released in a few days.

As part of his campaign for Keel’s release, Reich created a website, www.freeconnie.com, and kept supporters informed of his progress on the social networking site Twitter.

Attorney Heidi Rummel, who supervises the Post-Conviction Justice Project, said Keel is one of three of the project’s clients released since the beginning of the school year.

“It’s so good for the students,” she said of Keel’s release. “Part of the learning process is for the students to see that sometimes the criminal justice system doesn’t work as effectively as their ideal of it.... It’s certainly gratifying and re-energizing when we come across the right result for our clients.”

—Cara Mia DiMassa