Man imprisoned for 26 years; Did an LAPD cop lie?

Convicted as a teen of murdering his mother, Bruce Lisker fights to prove his innocence - taking on the LAPD and exposing lies and cover-ups

When asked if he believes Bruce Lisker got a fair trial based on what he knows today and if the jury heard the real evidence of the case, Sgt. Jim Gavin tells Erin Moriarty, "No."

"Did the jury hear the real evidence in this case?" Moriarty asks.

"No, they didn't," he replies.

It wasn't what the Los Angeles Police Department wanted to hear. Neither was this:

"I think Bruce Lisker was framed. I think the lead detective had fabricated evidence," Sgt. Gavin tells Moriarty. "I realized what I had, was the key to somebody being released from prison."

Sergeant Gavin was about to hand over the results of his investigation to the district attorney when his lieutenant took the case out of his hands.

"He goes, 'You're done. This mother f----- is gonna stay in prison. Do you understand me, Sgt. Gavin?' People up the chain of command decided that they were gonna decide the fate of Bruce Lisker. They decided he was guilty."

And the new evidence that might prove otherwise, Gavin feared, would never see the light of day.

"I knew that this was gonna be placed in a box and stored away, never to be seen again," he says.

Bruce Lisker received notice that his letter of complaint against Det. Andrew Monsue was unfounded and, therefore, denied.

"…in prison, you come to expect disappointment. You're not given a lot of hope. And so when they denied me, I was like, ahh, I kinda knew it," Bruce says. "But Paul said, 'No. Screw that. That's not where it's ending. No.'"

Paul Ingels knew there was only one way left to get Bruce Lisker a new trial. He paid a visit to Scott Glover and Matt Lait, two award-winning investigative reporters at the Los Angeles Times.

"Our first reaction, seriously, was to try to prove his guilt, look for a place where he had lied," says Lait.

The reporters embarked on their own seven-month investigation. Eventually, Sgt. Gavin made a courageous decision to reveal the evidence he had uncovered, putting his own career at risk.

"As I sit here now, I don't know why," Gavin says of not walking away from the case. "Something inside me told me to do it. So I did it."

Glover and Lait shared their findings with the toughest critic they could find: Phil Rabichow, the prosecutor who sent Bruce Lisker to prison.

"I walked away from that meeting worried that I had convicted an innocent person," Rabichow tells Moriarty.

Then, just as Glover and Lait were about to publish, the LAPD came up with disturbing news. The LAPD told the reporters that the shoeprint - the one seen on Dorka Lisker's head in the autopsy photo discovered by Sgt. Gavin - belonged to Bruce Lisker.

"It's hard for Bruce to explain how his shoeprint is on his mother's head," says Lait.

But, as it turns out, the LAPD had never even tested it.

When the footprint was finally sent to the lab, the result was astounding: it was not Bruce Lisker's footprint after all.

"It means that someone else kicked Dorka Lisker. Not Bruce Lisker," Rabichow says of the man he put away. "After I heard that, I said, 'That's it. I have a reasonable doubt as to his guilt.'"

On May 22, 2005, 20 years after Bruce Lisker was sent to prison for the murder of his mother, the L.A. Times ran Glover and Lait's exposé questioning the evidence of Andrew Monsue, the detective who put Lisker behind bars.

"After it ran, Monsue abruptly retired. Just left the department," says Glover.

Bruce Lisker: A Life In Photos
L.A. Times Coverage: The Case of Bruce Lisker

Andrew Monsue refused "48 Hours'" requests for an interview. And he was in no mood to explain himself when approached by Moriarty.

"Detective Monsue, can I just ask you some questions about the Bruce Lisker case?" Moriarty asks.

"You just screwed up, lady…" he replies.

But Monsue wasn't the only prosecution witness against Bruce Lisker.

Robert Hughes testified that Lisker confessed to him through a hole in the wall from his adjoining jail cell. As Glover and Lait discovered, Lisker was placed next to Hughes in the notorious "snitch tank."

"Robert Hughes had actually in the span, I think, of 18 months, claimed to have heard three murder confessions," says Lait.

For his testimony against Lisker, Hughes got out of jail a couple of months early.

Two months after the L.A. Times article ran, Bruce Lisker finally got the break that had eluded him for two decades. A federal judge granted a hearing to consider new evidence in the case.

"That was the first time I went, 'Oh, my God. Oh, my God.' The thought that I could see the outside of a prison cell and I could get beyond those fences that I'd been looking at the inside of - the wrong side of - for over two decades was so overwhelming."

The only way to win freedom was to convince the federal judge that no reasonable juror could now find him guilty. And that meant discrediting one last piece of evidence: what the prosecutor said was Bruce Lisker's biggest lie.

"Phillip Rabichow, in his closing arguments to the jury, said, 'His most condemning lie is that he could see his mother through the dining room window..." says Ingels.

The L.A. Times reporters had already been to the Lisker home to recreate the crime scene. Now, Ingels and lawyers from both sides went to conduct their own examination.

Ingels retraced the path Bruce says he took that morning at the same time of day, going first to the window Det. Monsue claimed was impossible to see through because of the glare.

"But Paul, I can see her feet," says Moriarty, while standing at the window where the crime scene was recreated.

"It looks like feet," Ingels explains. "But it's hard to tell for sure 'cause there is a little bit of reflection."

That's when Bruce says he walked to the other window for a better look. From here, Rabichow told the jury, it would have been impossible for Bruce Lisker to see his mother's head on the floor.

"You are looking at exactly what Bruce Lisker saw the morning of March 10, 1983," Ingels tells Moriarty as they stand outside the other window.

"He wasn't lying. You can see. You could clearly see," says Moriarty.

Twenty years after confidently telling jurors this was Bruce Lisker's big lie, Rabichow acknowledges, "My strongest piece of evidence, I do not feel exists anymore. I can't say that it was a lie."

"Every piece of evidence that the prosecutors showed at trial has been proven to be false," remarks Ingels.

It would take four more long years, but finally, in August 2009, Bruce Lisker heard an answer to his pleas. A federal judge ruled Bruce was convicted on "false evidence" and that he must be retried or set free.

Read the L.A. Times story

Bruce Lisker was vindicated. "It was a validation… a statement by somebody outside, not working for me, that, yes, everything that you say is true."

But, incredibly, the district attorney refused to give up. Bruce Lisker would face a second trial for the murder of his mother.