LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — A man whose attempted murder conviction was tossed by a judge walked free Tuesday after 20 years in prison.
Marco Contreras, now 41, was embraced by his mother as his lawyers cheered following a Los Angeles court hearing during which he was declared factually innocent.
"I just had to be patient, and wait," said Contreras, adding he always knew he would be exonerated.
Loyola Law School's Project for the Innocent, which fought for his release, pointed to a combination of factors that resulted in the conviction for a shooting and robbery at a Compton gas station in 1996.
Contreras' vehicle, which he had lent to someone else, was in the vicinity. An eyewitness wrongly identified him as the shooter, despite his assertion that he was home sleeping after working a graveyard shift as a security guard at a Bellflower hospital.
A probe by the Sheriff's Department and the district attorney's office not only determined that Contreras was innocent, but led to the arrest of another suspect in the case.
The law school project and prosecutors jointly petitioned Superior Court Judge William Ryan to release him.
"Newly discovered evidence suggests that a person other than Marco is guilty of the attempted murder of Jose Garcia," Chief Deputy District Attorney John K. Spillane wrote in a letter to the judge.
Contreras, who served two decades of a life-plus-seven-years sentence, said his spirituality helped him suppress anger during his time behind bars. He steadfastly maintained his innocence and fought to have his case re-investigated.
Paula Mitchell, Loyola's legal director, said before the hearing that erroneous eyewitness identifications account for about 75 percent of all wrongful convictions in the U.S.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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