Cherice Thomas

In the early morning hours of June 2, 2007, a public transportation employee going home from work saw a man being chased and then shot in the 3900 block of South Western Avenue in Los Angeles, California. The witness flagged down some paramedics several blocks away and was told to call 911.

In the meantime, a police car on patrol discovered 31-year-old Stanley Daniels lying face up in the southbound lanes of South Western Avenue. He had been shot once in the abdomen

The public transportation worker told police the gunman was a man about the same height as Daniels, who was 5 feet, 10 inches tall.

The murder remained unsolved for several weeks. Los Angeles police detectives believed the shooting was gang related because Daniels was a member of the Rollin’ 30’s Crips. Among those questioned was Chris Walker, a member of the rival Rollin’ 20’s Bloods gang. Detective Sean Hansen stopped Walker on suspicion of carrying narcotics. Before letting Walker go free, Hansen asked him about Daniels’ murder. Walker said he knew nothing about the murder.

On July 27, 2007, six weeks after the shooting, Walker was arrested for firing a pistol into an inhabited dwelling. When he was told he was a suspect in Daniels’ murder, Walker asked to speak to Detective Hansen. In an interview with Hansen that was videotaped without Walker’s knowledge, Walker said the shooting of Daniels was in retaliation for the shooting of a Rollin’ 20’s Bloods gang member in April 2007.

Walker said that he had been present at a gathering of Rollin’ 20’s gang members when they decided to retaliate. Among those at the meeting was 18-year-old Cherice Thomas, whom he described as a gang member. According to Walker, Thomas said she was ready to take action, but he thought she was talking “out the side of her neck like she always do.”

Walker said that Thomas and two other gang members left the meeting and he later learned that Daniels had been fatally shot on Western Avenue.

Walker said that a few days after the shooting, Thomas bragged about having a gun, showed him a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol and claimed she had “murked a Barlem,” which was slang for killing a member of the Crips.

Three days later, a detective asked Walker for Thomas’s cell phone numbers. Walker placed a telephone call from custody and gave a phone number to the detective, which the police determined was registered to Tammy Jones in Las Vegas.

An investigation of that cell phone showed that on June 2, 2007—the day Daniels was shot—one call was made in the geographic location where Daniels was killed. During that month, 448 other calls were made in the general vicinity of the gang turf controlled by the Rollin’ 20’s gang, to which Thomas was said to belong.

On October 9, Thomas was arrested at her mother’s home. Police confiscated a black jacket, a brown purse and a cell phone. The phone had a Los Angeles number and was not registered to Thomas. The jacket had 16 packets of crack cocaine in the lining. The purse contained a golf-ball sized piece of crack cocaine.

Thomas was charged with first-degree murder committed for the benefit of a criminal street gang and also with possession of cocaine.

In 2009, Thomas went on trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The public transportation worker who witnessed the shooting testified that he thought the shooter was a man because of the way he ran. Walker was a reluctant witness and attempted to avoid answering questions by saying he did not recall what he said in the interview with the detective, that he was high on drugs at the time of the 2007 police interview and that he would have said anything to be released from police custody.

Because Walker claimed he could not remember what he said, the prosecution was allowed to play the video of Walker’s interview. Officer Geraldine Thomsen testified that she worked in the narcotics and gang unit in the Rollin’ 20’s territory. She said she had stopped Thomas numerous times and that Thomas had admitted being a gang member.

The prosecution presented a photograph showing two women making Rollin’ 20’s gang hand symbols. Thomsen said one was Thomas, although the woman in the photograph had darker skin and larger breasts than Thomas. The prosecution presented another photo that depicted Thomas along with another woman who was making a gang signal. That photo was taken from a Myspace page. The prosecution also presented what appeared to be a roster of gang members—also taken from a Myspace page—which listed “Nina Ross,” a name that gang members allegedly called Thomas.

On May 15, 2009, a jury convicted Thomas of first-degree murder committed for the benefit of a street gang and for possession of narcotics. She was sentenced to 25 years to life on the murder charge and four years on the drug charge, to be served concurrently.

In 2010, the California Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and held that the introduction of the photographs and the roster was unfairly prejudicial.

Thomas went on trial a second time in 2012, represented by a different defense lawyer, Michael Simmrin. Simmrin discovered the name of another witness to the shooting in the police reports. That witness had told police that the shooter was a man.

During cross-examination of one of the detectives, Simmrin was able to elicit testimony that there were two witnesses to the shooting and both thought the gunman was a male.

Simmrin also brought an ophthalmologist to court who testified that Thomas was almost legally blind and would have had great difficulty seeing at night without glasses. Simmrin pointed out that there was no testimony that the shooter wore glasses, and presented evidence that Thomas did not have contact lenses.

Finally, Simmrin discovered that Walker was a cousin of Daniels. On cross-examination, Walker admitted that he gave his initial statement to avoid being charged with shooting into an inhabited building and because he was being pressured by family members to identify Thomas as the shooter who killed his cousin.

On August 23, 2012, a jury acquitted Thomas and she was released.

Maurice Possley

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State:California
County:Los Angeles
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Drug Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:2007
Convicted:2009
Exonerated:2012
Sentence:25 to Life
Race:Black
Sex:Female
Age:18
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No