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Michelle Poulos

Other California Exonerations where No Crime Actually Occurred
In March 2001, 38-year-old June Patti called police in Los Angeles, California, to report that she was being threatened by Michelle Poulos, a 33-year-old woman whose former boyfriend was living with Patti in the state of Washington.

Patti called Los Angeles Police detective Marcella Winn and claimed that Poulos called her from Los Angeles and threatened to kill Patti, Patti’s sister, Laura—who was a Torrance police officer—and their father because Patti had testified in 1998 as a prosecution witness that resulted in the murder conviction of Susan Mellen.

In 1986, Poulos was 19 and living with Dean Troke in Los Angeles when they had a daughter, Jessyca. Poulos and Troke broke up two years later and Troke moved in with Patti, who was living in Skagit County, Washington. Jessyca remained with Poulos.

In 1997, Patti contacted Detective Winn and said she had information about the murder of Richard Daly, whose body was found smoldering in an alley. Patti said that Mellen had confessed to her that she was involved in the murder.

At Mellen’s 1998 murder trial, Patti was the primary prosecution witness and implicated Mellen in Daly’s murder. Mellen was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Three years later, in 2001, Patti and Troke filed a petition seeking custody of Poulos’s daughter and a hearing was set for June 2001. Patti told authorities that when she called Poulos in March to say she and Troke were coming to get Jessyca, Poulos exploded and threatened to kill her.

In June 2001, Patti testified at a preliminary hearing that she telephoned Poulos and told her that she and Troke were coming to Los Angeles to get Jessyca and take her back to Washington. Patti testified that Poulos called her a “snitch,” and said, “she was going to slit my throat if I walked into the state of California (and) I wasn’t going to get Jessyca.”

Patti said that Poulos hung up, but called back later and said there was a $20,000 contract on her head. Patti said two men, Eddy Carter and Ray Greenough, also got on the phone and threatened to kill her if she did not recant her testimony against Mellen.

Patti claimed that Carter and Greenough had been involved in Daly’s murder, but were never charged—although she had never before mentioned them to prosecutors in the Mellen case. At Mellen’s trial, Patti had testified that the only people involved in the murder were Mellen, Chad Landrum, who was convicted in a separate trial, and Lester Monllor, who was acquitted in a separate trial.

On June 28, 2001, after the preliminary hearing judge had found there was sufficient evidence to prosecute the case, Poulos pled guilty to making a criminal threat and was placed on two years probation. In September 2002, Poulos was arrested on a drug charge and her probation was revoked. She was sentenced to two years in prison and was released in August 2003.

In November 2013, a woman came to Innocence Matters, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that investigates wrongful convictions. At that time, Innocence Matters was reviewing Mellen’s case. The woman reported that a man named Santo Alvarez, who had once been suspected but was never charged in Daly’s murder, had admitted that he took part in the murder. She said that Alvarez had admitted to her that he had helped Landrum and Monllor kill Daly and that Susan Mellen was not involved. The witness took and passed a polygraph examination at the request of Dierdre O’Connor, executive director of Innocence Matters.

In February and March 2014, O’Connor met with Alvarez, who said Mellen was innocent and that he was present when Landrum and Monllor killed Daly. O’Connor also discovered that Patti—who had been the prosecution’s sole witness against Mellen—had tried many times to report wrongdoing by others to several different Los Angeles County police departments, but had been discredited in every instance. Patti could not be interviewed as she had died in 2006.

The prosecution had not disclosed Patti’s past contact with police officers to Mellen’s defense lawyers. Detective Winn also did not disclose her interview with Patti’s police officer sister, Laura, during which Laura said Patti was a “pathological liar” and “master manipulator.”

In September 2014, O’Connor filed a state law petition for a writ of habeas corpus seeking to vacate Mellen’s conviction. On October 10, 2014, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office informed the court that it had no intention of continuing to prosecute the case because there was no evidence of Mellen’s guilt. The court vacated the conviction, the charge was dismissed, and Mellen was released.

At about that time, the Los Angeles Times published a lengthy article about Patti that said Patti, a native of the Redondo Beach, California, was well known to law enforcement after moving to Skagit County, Washington in the 1990s. One year, the newspaper said, Patti called police there 800 times and during a decade she was involved in more than 2,000 police calls or cases in that county. Although in some cases, she was accused of theft, trespassing, fraud and harassment, many of her calls were complaints and tips about other people. Whenever Patti’s name surfaced in a court case, the Skagit County public defender's office filed a standing document it maintained, known as “the June Patti brief,” that outlined Patti’s lack of credibility.

Not long after, Poulos learned of Mellen’s exoneration and contacted O’Connor for help in vacating her conviction. Poulos said that she had never threatened Patti and there was no phone call involving Greenough and Carter. In fact, Poulos said, in 2001 she did not know Susan Mellen or anything about the Daly murder.

On January 17, 2017, O’Connor filed a motion to vacate Poulos’s conviction, citing Patti’s history of false testimony and in particular her false assertion that Carter and Greenough were involved in Daly’s murder. “Absolutely no one, including Patti, ever suggested in 1997 that Carter or Greenough had any role in Daly’s murder,” the motion said.

The motion said, “Ms. Poulos is factually innocent and can substantiate it. More importantly, there is not a single reliable piece of evidence that points to her guilt.”

On January 23, 2017, with the support of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, the conviction was vacated and the prosecution dismissed the charge. In October 2017, Poulos was granted a certificate of innocence. She filed a claim for state compensation and in 2020 was awarded $60,340.

In January 2019, Poulos filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles. In September 2022, a jury awarded Poulos $1 million and an additional $250,000 to Poulos's two daughters.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/28/2017
Last Updated: 11/29/2022
County:Los Angeles
Most Serious Crime:Threats
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2001
Sentence:2 years
Age at the date of reported crime:33
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No