On September 23, 1990, Toni DiGiovanni’s 10-year-old son found her unconscious with a belt around her neck in their condominium in Encinitas, California.
When she was revived, DiGiovanni, 29, who was thrice-divorced, said she had been beaten by Kelvin Wiley, her former boyfriend, with whom she had had an off and on relationship for some time. The boy said he saw Wiley’s truck parked outside the building earlier that day.
Hours later, Wiley, 29, a computer systems analyst, was arrested at his home, despite his claim that he had come home from work about 3 a.m. that morning and had not gone back out all day.
At trial before a San Diego County Superior Court jury, DiGiovanni testified that Wiley beat her with a wrench and pulled a belt around her neck in an attempt to strangle her until she lost consciousness. She said he attacked her because she was trying to break off their relationship.
DiGiovanni’s son testified that he had breakfast with his mother and went out to play. He said saw Wiley’s truck parked outside that morning before he came home around 11 a.m. and discovered his mother on the floor.
Wiley testified that he was the one who had attempted to break off his 18-month relationship with DiGiovanni, but that she harassed him constantly, banging on his windows, leaving notes on his door, and repeatedly calling him.
He testified that on the night before the alleged attack, he declined a dinner invitation from DiGiovanni, but they later ran into each other at a bar where he went with another female friend.
A medical expert testified that DiGiovanni’s medical injuries were inconsistent with her testimony about the beating.
In December 1990, the jury convicted Wiley of battery and he was sentenced to four years in prison.
While the case was on appeal, Wiley filed a petition for a state writ of habeas corpus, saying that DiGiovanni’s son, by then 12, had recanted his testimony and said that he had lied about seeing Wiley’s truck because he thought he was protecting his mother.
The petition also noted that the San Diego Reader newspaper had investigated the case and found three new witnesses—one of whom testified that on the morning DiGiovanni was found, he saw a white man enter DiGiovanni’s condominium. Wiley is black.
On February 5, 1992, Wiley was released on bond while the case was pending. On August 19, 1992, San Diego Superior Court Judge J. Morgan Lester vacated the conviction and the charges were dismissed.
Morgan found that Wiley’s trial attorney’s inadequate investigation of the case resulted in the failure to discover the witnesses who could have testified on Wiley’s behalf that he was not at DiGiovanni’s condominium.
Wiley later sued his trial lawyer and won a $162,500 judgment. The verdict was set aside on appeal.
– Maurice Possley