John Edward Smith, former Calif. gang member, likely to be cleared of murder charges in 1993 shooting, report says

This image provided by Deirdre O'Connor shows a booking photo of John Edward Smith. Prosecutors are going to court Friday Sept. 21, 2012 to seek dismissal of charges against a former gang member convicted of a drive-by murder in a gang infested neighborhood of Los Angeles 19 years ago.
AP Photo/Deirdre O'Connor
Prosecutors are seeking dismissal of charges against former gang member John Edward Smith, who was convicted of a drive-by murder in Los Angeles 19 years ago
AP Photo/Deirdre O'Connor

(CBS/AP) LOS ANGELES - Prosecutors are going to court Friday to seek dismissal of charges against John Edward Smith, a former gang member who was convicted of a drive-by murder in a Los Angeles neighborhood 19 years ago.

Smith was 18 when he went to prison for the 1993 shooting that killed one man and injured another. Now 38 years old, his case is expected to be dismissed, The Associated Press reported.

Although Smith admitted he was a gang member at the time of the shooting, he maintained his innocence and said he wasn't in the area when it happened. He said he was at the home of his grandmother on Sept. 9, 1993 and knew nothing about the crime until his mother called to tell him about it.

Smith was quickly convicted of murder and attempted murder.

His exoneration was pursued by Innocence Matters, a public interest law firm based in Torrance, Calif. Attorney Deirdre O'Connor, who heads the group, said the sole witness whose testimony convicted Smith recently admitted he lied at the trial. The witness, Landu Mvuemba, was the shooting victim who survived.

O'Connor, who said her innocence project was formed because of her strong belief in Smith's case, said both Smith and Mvuemba were subjected to repeated polygraph tests confirming Smith's claim of innocence.

According to court papers, O'Connor reported that Mvuemba met with Innocence Matters representatives in 2010 and immediately blurted out that he lied at the trial.

"Within the first two minutes of the interview, Mvuemba recanted," O'Connor said. She said the witness, who was 16 at the time of the shooting, told them: "The police told me they knew who did it."

He said police pointed to Smith, whom he had known in elementary school, and told him that other witnesses identified Smith as the shooter. Mvuemba was also shown a picture of his friend, DeAnthony Williams, who died in the shooting and he said, "I felt a lot of pressure to go along with it."

Both Mvuemba and Williams were on the street examining the scene of another shooting from the night before when a car pulled up and someone opened fire.

Mvuemba said he tried three times to tell authorities the truth -- that he didn't see enough to testify -- but his pleas were ignored.

"Mvuemba knew it was wrong to identify Mr. Smith as the man who shot him," the defense motion said. "But when he saw his deceased friend's crying mother in the courtroom he felt as if he had no other choice."

O'Connor also said Smith's trial was undermined by ineffective assistance of attorneys who failed to investigate the case properly both at trial and on appeal. She said lawyers and police often take "short cuts" in gang cases.

Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor who works with the university's innocence project, said gang cases are among the most difficult in which to seek exoneration.

"Gang members are easy targets," she said. "They are the usual suspects. This is a story we hear repeatedly. Witnesses say what they think authorities want to hear. It's terrifying to see people wrongly convicted but also to see the carnage on our streets. Police react to that carnage."

O'Connor credited the district attorney's office with working to get the truth once they became aware of the case.

As for Smith, O'Connor said he wants to get a job and start his life anew.