In April 1989, a gang related drive-by shooting in San Francisco, California, left two people dead and at least 11 injured. Police arrested the main suspect, Paul Green, shortly after the shooting, and he was tried and convicted on charges stemming from the incident. However, there was not enough evidence at that time to arrest another suspect, Caramad Conley. Conley was arrested and charged in 1992 based on the testimony of the state’s main prosecution witness, David Polk, who subsequently testified at trial that Conley had confessed to him that he had committed the murders. In addition, an accomplice to the murder placed Conley at the scene of the crime. (The accomplice’s testimony was usable under California law only because a non-accomplice, Polk, corroborated his statements.) No other evidence connected Conley to the murders. Polk had previously been in a witness protection program because of his knowledge of the shooting. However, when questioned, both Polk and prosecutors repeatedly said that Polk was no longer in the witness protection program, and had not received any benefits for his cooperation. In September 1994, a jury convicted Conley of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and attempted murder, and he was sentenced to life without parole.
After Conley’s conviction, lawyers working on an appeal of another case discovered that the detective who had investigated Conley’s case had lied about benefits given to a witness in that case. During their search of the detective’s files, they also found evidence that the detective had compensated Polk for his assistance with Conley’s case and provided him with housing, all benefits that the prosecution had not disclosed. In addition, contrary to Polk’s testimony, he was in the local witness protection program. In December 2010, a California Superior Court Judge vacated Conley’s conviction because of the prosecution’s failure to disclose this evidence to the defense. Prosecutors decided not to retry Conley in January 2011.
- Stephanie Denzel