Timely call to action at end of this post….MUST BE DONE TODAY
Tomorrow (Tuesday), Maurice Caldwell has his first hearing before the California Victim Compensation Board. The Board may be his only and best chance to receive compensation. Although compensation is mandated by statute in the state of California, compensation is not automatic–it must be granted by the Board, which is comprised of political appointees.
The facts overwhelmingly show that Maurice is innocent. Still, he must prove his innocence again in order to be compensated for the 20 years he spent wrongfully convicted. Even though his conviction has been overturned, the actual perpetrator has confessed, the DA has dismissed the charges, and a federal court acknowledged there is evidence that a police officer fabricated the false evidence that led to the charges against Maurice, Maurice must still demonstrate that he “more likely than not” did not commit the crime. Worse still, he must do so in an administrative hearing where he lacks subpoena power to bring witnesses to testify, the rules of evidence do not apply, and witnesses may only testify by skype if the Attorney General agrees. In Maurice’s case, that means the real perpetrator who has confessed cannot be brought from prison – where he is now serving a life sentence for yet another murder – to testify in front of the Board.
As early as 1990, witnesses told law enforcement that Marritte Funches had shot and killed the victim. In 2007, Funches confessed and provided details only someone familiar with the crime would know. Funches has repeatedly sworn that Maurice was not present or involved in the crime. Multiple witnesses have now identified Funches and another man, Henry Martin, as the actual shooters, and all have said that Maurice was not there. Martin has said that he would talk if given immunity. Three alibi witnesses have sworn that Maurice was inside an apartment with them when the shots were fired.
There was also false testimony by an incentivized witness. The only witness who implicated Maurice was his next-door neighbor, Mary Cobbs. Cobbs initially told police the shooters did not live in the neighborhood. Police orchestrated a series of improper procedures that made clear Maurice was their suspect, and offered to move Cobbs and her children out of the drug-infested housing projects if she testified as a witness. Only then did she change her story and identify Maurice, whom she admitted she knew because he lived next door. Cobbs was rewarded with a new apartment in a safer area, $1000, a trip to Disneyland, and a job. She even received a key to the City of San Francisco.
Finally, the police officer who fabricated the evidence that led to Maurice’s wrongful conviction had a clear motive against Maurice. A few months before the shooting, Maurice told the police officer that he was filing a complaint against him for excessive force in an unrelated incident. The officer has admitted that he threatened to kill Maurice in response. That same officer then fabricated the evidence that caused the homicide inspectors to focus solely on Maurice as a suspect in the Acosta murder, and also orchestrated the improper identification procedures that led Cobbs to falsely identify Maurice. At the time of these events, the officer knew he was under investigation for Caldwell’s complaint. Although a supervisor recommended sustaining the complaint one month before the shooting, it was dismissed after Caldwell was convicted.
Even so, Maurice faces an uphill battle toward compensation and readies himself to try prove a negative – that he did not commit this crime. Maurice spent 7,494 days fighting to prove he was wrongfully convicted and did so. The United States Supreme Court, in Colorado v. Nelson, just reaffirmed that exonerees like Maurice are presumed innocent like every other citizen. Everyone who does post-conviction work knows how hard it is to get back to that innocence after the State has pronounced you guilty. But rather than compensate him for his wrongful conviction, the State of California requires he now prove a negative before it gives him even one penny for the two decades he spent behind bars for a conviction it has already recognized was wrong.
Want to help Maurice? There are three key things you can do:
- Write a letter of support to the Board on Maurice’s behalf. Please see the attached information about Maurice’s case, the FAQ’s about the compensation process, and the sample letter below. Please email a copy to NCIP Associate Director firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Join us at the hearing on Tuesday, May 9 at 9:30am in Sacramento, at the following address:
California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board
400 R Street,
Sacramento, CA, 95811
- Attend the full California Victim Compensation Board Meeting—the date and time are currently TBD, but we will keep you posted with more details as we receive them.