Open Forum: I Served 6 Years for a Crime I Did Not Commit

My name is Jamal Trulove, and I was wrongfully convicted of a murder that I did not commit because of police and prosecutorial misconduct. I am writing to tell my story because it is important that people understand the devastation of what happened to me and how the San Francisco district attorney’s office needs to adopt reforms to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.

The case against me, based on a 2007 shooting in the Sunnydale public housing project, turned on the testimony of a single purported eyewitness. In fact, she didn’t see me do anything. But the jury never knew the truth: that on the night of the murder, the police showed her a single photograph of me, asked her to name me as the shooter, and she did not. The police buried that evidence and the fact that they pressured the woman until she told them, with some uncertainty, what they wanted to hear.

 

Prosecutors gave benefits to this woman totaling nearly $63,000. At the time of the shooting, she was sharing a bedroom and apartment with multiple people in the projects. The prosecutors moved her to a house in the suburbs. They provided money for all of her expenses. At trial, this woman became certain that I was the shooter.

The assistant district attorney told the jury in her closing argument to believe the eyewitness because she testified in spite of her fear of my family and me. The prosecutor suggested my family members, friends or I would retaliate against this woman. But there was no evidence that we ever threatened the eyewitness for the simple reason that we did not and would not. The prosecutor’s closing argument was “made out of whole cloth,” according to the state Court of Appeal that reversed my conviction.

But in the meantime, I went to prison — I was sentenced to 50 years to life. I had never been in prison. I left behind my four young children when I was wrongfully arrested. While in prison, I was assaulted because I was not a gang member. During the more than six years I was incarcerated, I saw horrific violence and inhumanity all around me.

I spent months on end in lockdown because of fights other inmates had in other parts of the prison. I missed my children’s birthdays, Christmases, Halloween and first days of school. I decorated my cell with letters and drawings from them. All they had from me were my letters of love and encouragement, and the promise that I would return to them some day.

I thought I would be released after the Court of Appeal’s decision, but instead I was returned to San Francisco County Jail for a second trial. There was a new head district attorney by then, but rather than taking a long and hard look at my case, he allowed the same assistant district attorney who had committed the misconduct that led to the new trial to try me again.

I went through the stress and trauma of a second trial, once again facing life in prison for a crime I did not commit. At my retrial, my attorneys presented scientific evidence that revealed that the shooting could not have happened as the eyewitness stated and that she could not have even seen it. I was acquitted of all charges.

I then filed suit against the police officers who framed me for murder. A civil jury unanimously found that I was innocent and that police officers had fabricated evidence and hidden exculpatory evidence. They awarded me $10 million (plus attorneys’ fees) for my 6½ years of imprisonment. A few weeks ago, the city and county of San Francisco settled this suit for $13.1 million.

The prosecutor who tried — twice — to send me to prison for life for a crime I did not commit still has her job. Now she is a managing attorney in the San Francisco district attorney’s office. None of the police officers involved in framing me were disciplined in any way.

We need change and it has to come from the top. The win-at-all-costs mentality by prosecutors and police has prevailed too often at the expense of justice. The prosecutor who tried my case and the police who lied to get me convicted needed oversight and consequences. They got neither. That’s just plain wrong.

We have a race for district attorney in November and a wide-open field. I hope all the voters will be looking for the candidate who truly stands for change and who isn’t afraid to come down on prosecutors and police officers who don’t play by the rules. It took 10 years to prove my innocence, and I never should have been charged in the first place. A new district attorney, who is committed to reviewing cases like mine with a focus on correcting wrongful convictions, exonerating the innocent and preventing future misconduct, would be a good start.

Jamal Trulove is an actor, musician and entrepreneur who divides his time between San Francisco and Los Angeles. He will appear in the film “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” which will be released June 7.