Supporters of the California Innocence Project rallied at the state Capitol Friday. They want Governor Brown to grant clemency to 12 people they say have been wrongly convicted of serious crimes. (Scott Detrow/KQED)

Governor Jerry Brown has established a track record of granting pardons at Christmastime.  A San Diego law center specializing in exonerating wrongly-convicted inmates is hoping the governor will expand on that record this year, and grant clemency to 12 people it says have no business being stuck behind bars.

“There’s nothing more difficult than being in prison during the holiday times,” said California Innocence Project Director Justin Brooks at a Capitol rally of about 50 people on Friday afternoon. Brooks led a march from San Diego to Sacramento this summer to deliver clemency petitions to Brown’s office. “Here, five days before Christmas, standing in front of a Christmas tree is a reminder of how long it’s been since we were here last.”

The Innocence Project says it’s gathered proof like DNA tests, confessions from other suspects and confirmed alibis that make it clear the people it calls the “California 12” did not commit the crimes they’ve been convicted of. But technical and procedural barriers are keeping them in prison. “It’s things that, it doesn’t go to whether they’re innocent or not,” said Brooks. “It goes to whether you’re following evidentiary rules, or whether a judge applied evidentiary rules.”

“Those Years Are Gone For Good”

Brooks says the Innocence Project works hard to focus on cases where substantial doubts have been raised. “I always say there are two naive positions,” he explained. “One is that everyone in prison is innocent. The other is that everyone in prison is guilty.”

Several speakers at the rally offered powerful stories of being falsely-accused and shipped to prison, only to be released years later after evidence proved their innocence.” Those stories were made all the more poignant by the carols and holiday songs drifting over from the Capitol’s nearby Christmas tree.

Uriah Courtney spent eight years behind bars for a rape and kidnapping he did not commit. Those years “are gone for good,” the San Diego man said, “but you’ve got to move on. You can’t move back.”

The victim identified his picture in a police lineup. But the Innocence Project helped track down DNA evidence proving another man had committed the rape, and Courtney was freed in May.

“The toughest thing is being away from family this time of year,” Courtney told the crowd as “Oh Christmas tree” played in the background. “You try to forget about it, but it’s impossible.”

Governor Brown has announced previous clemency grants on the days leading up to Christmas. But the governor’s office wouldn’t comment on any of the 12 Innocence Project cases, saying the administration never discusses individual clemency applications.

  • “It’s things that, it doesn’t go to whether they’re innocent or not,” said Brooks. “It goes to whether you’re following evidentiary rules, or whether a judge applied evidentiary rules.” And these brick walls are put in place to keep people in prisons, which is not only morally and ethically wrong, it’s expensive. New evidence and recantations are routinely ignored, as if those in prisons are no better than livestock.

    • waltinseattle

      which just reminds us. we live under rule of law. which itself is not bad. but law is supposed to promote justice! these strict legal footdraging excuses show that the system favors law over justice. any wonder why people are not respectfull of the system?


    NOT ONE MORE DAY…There is absolutely no reason to keep innocent people locked up, all the red tape keeping innocent people behind bars reminds me of N. Korea! I sure hope Gov. Brown will find a place in his heart to release these 12 innocent people from prison, it may give hope to others and it will definitely restore some faith in the Governor who has been desperately shuffling inmates around to avoid a court order to reduce prison overcrowding. All in all he is costing the taxpayers even more money by keeping these people behind bars. Not one more day Gov. Brown Let them go home for Christmas!

  • Sharrhan

    >Governor Brown has announced previous clemency grants on the days leading up to Christmas. But the governor’s office wouldn’t comment on any of the 12 Innocence Project cases, saying the administration never discusses individual clemency applications.<
    Governor Brown needs to pardon these 12 inmates NOW. These innocents have already suffered more than they can endure. Friends, please urge Gov. Brown to use the power of his office to bring justice to these 12 inmates before December 25th, 2013. Thank you.

  • waltinseattle

    of course the guv’s office could talk generally. it would be best if jerry opened his own lips and said a few things about the chasm between law and justice. I would be glad to hear him say ‘we goofed’. even the half way “mistakes happen” would be progress! it might be nice to see how much/little he is aware of the unreliable nature of “eye witnesses.”. we are not cameras with stenographers. we are easily fooled, over confident amateur observers at best. you’ve heard about the Midwest man who was absolutely positively I.d. ed by an eyewitness for a bank heist. the man had a receipt showing he was an hour plus distant, filling his gastank….while the heist was in progress? the prosecutor showed how experts who should know better were self-deceived: ” are you going to have the queen of England testify too?”. some ego inflation would not allow him to accept evidence that might be embarassing to his well intended but erronious case work. ego..I can’t be wrong. ego my courts can’t make mistakes. ego. my wardens and guards have the right approach to dealing with convicts. ego if they were innocent they would not be convicted. ego I can get by hidding. the people are too weak to demand justice. they will settle for law.

    it would be nice to hear a general statement moonbeam jerry brown.

    • When their is absolutely no good excuse that he can make for continuing to hold innocent prisoners, he is more concerned with covering up the mistake for the sake of being able to win another political campaign. Only those who are awake will notice and repulsed.

  • Moe Ramsey

    We have this problem in texas with our governor firing people that find death row, and prisoners in general innocent of charges based on dna evidence. California, don’t be like Texas.

  • Betty Garcia

    Its against everything that America stands for to hold hostages, let this people out. Governor Brown you have won the popularity with the people hopefully you will do the right thing and allow these men to go home since they have been found innocent. Part of the overcrowding is due to people being in prison when they should be released to go home

  • wearealldoingtime

    Governor Brown pardon these 12 inmates !! More need to be released, there are many many who are innocent in prison !!~~~

  • Lucy Cartagena

    I think their needs to be a provision in our court system that “victims” of our unjust system can be instantly entitled to 50 million dollars compensation!!!! Because unfortunately that’s all our Gov. sees!!! MONEY!!! ~

  • shaypeanut

    So sad, to see some of these negative comments. People watch the movie the SNITCH. Please don’t skip the previews that state a
    lot of FACTS. Many innocent people go to
    prison. Many people are sentenced to
    extreme life sentences for minor crimes like property theft. The system is banking on young new addicts
    screwing up. Whose child or relative
    will be next to be sentenced is the question one should be asking. The innocent’s project works hard to help
    those wrongly sentenced and convicted. I
    hope Governor Brown hears our pleas for help.
    Excessive sentencing is breaking the bank. California three strikes has locked up
    thousands and “NO, prop 36 did not fix the problem but it is a
    start.” Many are still serving life
    at a cost of 500, 000 per year per inmate.
    Let’s take one inmate sentenced to 70 years of stealing from a home
    while no one was around. Years ago this will called breaking and entering worth
    5-7 years max, but today this is a life offense costing $3.5 million for a life
    sentence for just one inmate.
    OUTRAGEOUS, isn’t it. How many
    could we send to college for the incarceration on one individual? Check out for the info. By the way I am the mother of the inmate
    sentenced to 70 years to life. His
    children cry for him. Parole is not an option;
    Jeremy Stewart has to do 85% of the time before being able to request a parole
    hearing. I hope no other families have
    to experience my pain and heart break but the Department of Corrections knows
    it will happen over and over again especially with drugs being so easy to
    purchase. No one knows how or what path
    their children will take. Thank you for
    this article. Please just rent SNITCH
    from your local Red box.


Scott Detrow

Sacramento bureau chief Scott Detrow covers state government, politics and policy for KQED News and its statewide news program, The California Report.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor