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Stephen Patterson

Other Los Angeles County, California homicide exonerations
On the afternoon of April 15, 2005, 16-year-old Yair Oliva and two friends, Juan Sedano and Saul Delacruz, were standing outside of an apartment complex near the corner of 68th Street and Parmalee Avenue in Los Angeles, California. They were members or associates of the Florencia 13 street gang. Earlier in the day, their gang tagging (graffiti) on a wall near that intersection had been crossed out and replaced by new tagging that read “SSHC,” which stood for the 6 Side Hustler Crips, a rival gang.

Witnesses would later say that as Oliva and his friends were hanging out, a Black youth walked east on 67th Street to the corner of Parmalee Avenue. When Oliva and his friends saw him, they yelled racial epithets and flashed gang signs. The youth responded with gang signs, then walked north to 66th Street and out of sight.

About 30 minutes later, at 4:45 p.m., the same youth was seen walking south on Parmalee from 66th Street. He was joined by another Black youth. Esther Gonzalez and her daughter, Colleen Enriquez, saw the youths coming and, sensing danger, went inside, but continued watching through a living room window. They both later told police that the two youths split up when they reached the middle of Parmalee. One remained on the sidewalk; the other walked into the street. Both then pulled handguns and fired at Oliva and his friends. Oliva was struck in the head and died. Sedano and Delacruz escaped injury.

The two shooters ran north on Parmalee to 66th Street, then eastbound.

Police found four .380-caliber shell casings near the shooting. Two were on the sidewalk, and two were in the street. One .45-caliber shell casing was found in the middle of Parmalee Avenue.

Delacruz described the shooter as a Black male, approximately 16 years old, 5 feet 5 inches tall, stocky, 150 to 160 pounds, with braids that went down to the neck, wearing a yellow/tan Hawaiian shirt and light blue pants. He described the second person as a Black male, 18 to 19 years old, 5 feet 7 inches tall, “not stocky but fat,” with dark skin, and wearing a thick black jacket with long sleeves and no hood, and light blue pants.

Sedano said that at the time of the gunshots, he was separated from Oliva and Delacruz by several feet. Sedano described the Black male he had seen throwing gang signs that preceded the shooting as 22 years old, 5 feet 5 inches to 5 feet 9 inches tall, with a light to medium complexion, dark hair with braids, light brown shirt with short sleeves, and beige pants. Sedano said he did not see a second black male.

Esther Gonzalez described the male on the sidewalk as 19 or 20 years old, 5 feet 9 inches tall, about 145 to 150 pounds with a medium complexion, small “French rolls” for hair, wearing a tan and beige button-down shirt and blue jeans. She said the male on the street was 19 to 21 years old, 5 feet 7 inches tall, weighing 175 to 180 pounds, and “not muscular, but more chunky,” with a small afro, a darker complexion than the other male, dark pants, dark blue shirt, and black jacket.

Her daughter, Colleen Enriquez, described the Black male who shot from the sidewalk as early 20’s, 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighing 145 to 150 pounds, with a medium complexion, short hair with curls, beige plaid shirt, blue jeans, and white Nike shoes. She said the male who shot from the middle of the street was in his late 20’s, 5 feet 7 inches tall, weighed 175 to 180 pounds, was heavyset, had a dark complexion, short natural hair, black jacket, dark blue shirt, and dark pants. Enriquez said she had previously seen the gunman who fired from the street hanging around at a house on the north side of 66th Street in the middle of the block.

Police determined that 18-year-old Stephen Patterson lived in the house. They put his photograph in a lineup. Enriquez identified Patterson as the person who had been shooting from the middle of the street. Her mother also viewed the lineup, but did not make an identification.

On March 22, 2006, Patterson was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. During an interview with detectives, Patterson said he was not involved in the shooting. He said he was in his home when he heard shots and came outside.

Prior to the trial, Malcolm Richard, a defense investigator, had interviewed several other witnesses, none of whom were called to testify. Patterson’s mother, Joan Pryor, had said that she returned home to find several police cars in the area. She parked in front of her house and saw Patterson as well as other neighbors on the street. She said she asked Patterson what happened, and he said he didn’t know.

Ascencion “Chone” Preciado lived across the street from the Patterson home. He said he heard the gunshots, looked out, and saw Patterson in his yard. He yelled at Patterson: “What’s going on?” Patterson said he didn’t know. Preciado said he then saw two Black teenagers run eastbound on 66th Street, one carrying a gun. They stopped at the gate in front of Patterson’s house, and one appeared to be trying to enter. Preciado said he saw Patterson shake his hand, denying entry, and the two males continued east on 66th Street where they jumped a wall.

Preciado said he walked across the street, and Patterson said, “Those guys shot somebody from Florence,” referring to the gang. Preciado told investigator Richards he was sure that Patterson was not involved in the shooting.

Karla Chacon told Richards that she saw Patterson in his yard right after hearing the gunshots.

In July 2007, Patterson went to trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The only witness to identify him as one of the gunmen was Colleen Enriquez. She said the gunmen were about 35 feet from where she was in the house when the shots were fired. She said she had seen Patterson in the past when she walked on 66th Street. She said she saw Oliva, Sedano, and Delacruz flashing gang signs prior to the shooting.

Sedano testified that he and Oliva and Delacruz were not members of the Florencia 13 gang. He said he had bad eyesight and was unable to identify the gunmen.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy Richard Martinez testified as a gang expert. He said that the Florencia 13 and 66 East Coast Crips, a gang affiliated with 6 Side Hustlers Crips, were rivals. He identified some of Patterson’s tattoos as being consistent with 66 East Coast Crips, but he also acknowledged that he was unable to find any documentation that Patterson was a member of the gang. He admitted that he had never had contact with Patterson in his seven years working the area gangs.

The defense called several witnesses. Y.C. Pryor, Patterson’s grandfather who lived in the house with Patterson and his family, testified that he heard gunshots and walked to the kitchen where he saw Patterson. Pryor said Patterson looked out the window and walked outside.

Karla Chacon testified that she was in her living room in the house across the street from Patterson’s house. She said she heard the gunfire and looked out the window. She saw Pryor and Patterson in their front yard.

Trinidad Leyva was an electrician working at Edison Middle School which was next to Parmalee Avenue. He said he ducked down when he heard the gunshots, then saw two Black males run around the corner at Parmalee and 66th Street, heading east. He said he saw one of them stop at the third house down and talk to an individual, then continue running. Leyva said he was positive Patterson was not one of the two men he saw running.

On August 9, 2007, the jury convicted Patterson of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.

Years later, Patterson’s mother, Joan Pryor, hired Eduardo Hernandez, a private investigator, to conduct additional investigation. In addition, the California Innocence Project (CIP) began re-investigating the case and interviewing witnesses.

Hernandez commissioned a survey of the crime scene. A survey company determined that the distance from Enriquez’s house and the location of the southernmost shell casing, meaning closest to Oliva, was 182 feet, 2 inches–about 150 feet further than Enriquez said she was from the gunman she identified as Patterson.

Hernandez met with Leyva, the electrician who had been working at the school, and determined that Levya was about 60 feet from the shooter in the street and about 90 feet from the gunman who was on the sidewalk.

Romeo Gallegos was interviewed by the CIP. He lived next door to Patterson and said that when he came home from work, he saw Patterson talking to two Black males who were outside the fence in front of Patterson’s home. Later, after hearing gunshots, Gallegos said he saw two Black males run past his home. He said Patterson remained in his front yard the entire time.

Another neighbor, Isabel Gallegos, said she heard the gunfire and stepped outside. She saw Patterson in his front yard and then saw two Black males run east on 66th Street.

Hernandez interviewed Sedano, who said that he knew Patterson was not the person who had shot Oliva. Sedano also confirmed that he had seen Patterson in jail after Patterson was arrested and that he told Patterson he did not believe Patterson was one of the shooters.

Hernandez wrote to Patterson in prison and asked him about the shooting. Patterson said he was in the kitchen, heard gunfire, and looked out. He went outside and saw two people running toward him. Patterson provided the names of the two people to Hernandez.

In March 2022, Hernandez filed a request with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) asking for a review of the case and identifying by name the two people he believed were the real gunman.

The CIU reviewed the criminal history of one of the men and determined he was a member of the 6 Side Hustler Crips at the time of the shooting. The records showed that in June 2005, seven weeks after Oliva was killed, this person was arrested and was in possession of a .380-caliber pistol–the same caliber as four of the casings found on the street.

In December 2023, CIU investigator William Villasenor attempted to retrieve the casings from evidence. He learned that although the casings had been destroyed, images had been uploaded to the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN). He also learned that the police department crime lab had test-fired the .380-caliber pistol confiscated from the gang member. Those casings also had been destroyed, but the images had been uploaded into NIBIN. Villasenor compared the images and made a “preliminary match” of the test-fired casings and the casings from the murder scene.

The CIU also interviewed several witnesses, including Ascencion Preciado, who recalled that after hearing the gunfire, he saw the two Black males running east on 66th Street. They attempted to come into Patterson’s yard, but he refused to open the gate, Preciado said.

Other witnesses also provided the names of the two Black males and insisted that Patterson was not the gunman.

On March 11, 2024, Patterson’s attorney, Michael Semanchik, who had left the CIP and joined The Innocence Center, a newly-created non-profit law firm in San Diego, California focusing on investigating wrongful convictions, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office CIU filed a joint petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The petition, which was redacted so as to not reveal information about the suspected real gunmen, asked that Patterson’s conviction be vacated.

“The parties agree there is no reliable or credible evidence that Stephen Patterson was present at, or participated in, the April 15, 2005 shooting,” the petition said. “Rather, recently-discovered evidence establishes that [redacted] are the true perpetrators.”

On March 13, 2024, Superior Court Judge William Ryan granted the petition, and the prosecution dismissed the case. Patterson was released, having spent more than 16 years in prison after his conviction.

At a press conference announcing the dismissal, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón declared, “In this era of progress, it’s crucial to acknowledge the imperfections of our past and actively work to correct those wrongs. It’s our responsibility that no family is torn apart by a miscarriage of justice, and no community is left with the actual perpetrator roaming their streets. Our office’s Conviction Integrity Unit is dedicated to meticulously reviewing cases and collaborating to uncover the truth and increase public safety.”

Semanchik said that Patterson “has always maintained his innocence. Unfortunately, his wrongful conviction was the product of a single bad eyewitness identification and shoddy police work. We are lucky to have a great working relationship with the CIU. Not only did it allow us to free an innocent person, but together, we identified the true perpetrators.”

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/11/2024
Last Updated: 4/11/2024
County:Los Angeles
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2005
Sentence:50 to life
Age at the date of reported crime:18
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No