On the evening of February 25, 1978, Gilbert Rubio left his Aunt’s house in Pomona, California, after a small family dispute. Rubio left with his cousin Jesse Ortiz, who was a postman in the nearby community of Duarte, California. Ortiz’s brothers, Victor and Daniel Lara, followed in Victor’s car after learning that Rubio had pushed their mother. The Lara brothers overtook Rubio’s car, forcing him to pull over. The three brothers (Victor, Daniel, and Jesse) then exited the vehicles and began to argue. While the brothers were arguing, Rubio drove away.
During the argument, a 1969 grey Chevrolet Impala drove past the scene, and the occupants of the vehicle shouted at the brothers. The Chevrolet then stopped approximately one block away and two of the occupants, described as “Chicanos” (a slang term commonly used at that time to describe Americans of Mexican descent), approximately five feet seven to five feet eight inches tall, between the ages of eighteen and twenty, approached the brothers and asked where they were from. One of the brothers said that they were from Pomona, that the matter at hand was a family dispute, and that they should mind their own business. One of the occupants of the Impala, wearing a green trench coat, pulled out a small handgun and fired shots “past” the brothers. Assuming that the gunman had fired blanks, the brothers approached him. During the dispute between the Lara brothers and the gunman, two more cars pulled up across the street and two more young Hispanic men emerged and began to wrestle with Daniel Lara. The gunman continued to fire shots, wounding Victor and Daniel and killing Jesse with a single bullet to the head. The gunman and suspects involved in the brawl returned to their respective vehicles and fled the scene. Daniel Lara called the police, who arrived shortly and obtained descriptions of the gunman and the other youths that were involved, as well as a description of their vehicles.
In the midst of their investigation, the police located a large party that was taking place only three blocks away from the scene of the shooting, where a car similar to that described as the gunman’s was parked. While officers tried to secure the premises and detain thirty to forty teenagers attending the party, they located a green trench coat that fit the description of the jacket worn by the gunman. In the meantime, several teens attempted to flee the scene, one of whom was sixteen-year-old Gordon Robert Hall. In order to escape the police and what he feared would be a possible probation violation for a previous graffiti-painting incident, Hall hid in nearby bushes.
Shortly after, Hall was discovered hiding in the bushes without a shirt about a block away. He was then handcuffed, put in the back of a patrol car, and brought back to the residence where the party was located. After receiving medical attention, the surviving Lara brothers were brought back to the scene to identify the gunman through various four to six man lineups, none of whom they identified as the gunman. Hall was then brought within four feet of the Lara brothers, who sat in the back seat of a police car. Assuming that the green trench coat found in the house belonged to the gunman and considering that Hall was shirtless, the brothers subsequently positively identified him as the shooter. The Lara brothers later identified Hall as the gunman at a preliminary hearing and again at Hall’s trial.
Forced to sell their home to pay the attorney’s fees, Hall’s family hired attorney John H. Whyte. In his work on Hall’s case, Whyte failed to challenge the field identification or thoroughly investigate the case, and only provided one witness (besides Hall) to support his alibi defense. Not surprisingly, the jury rejected Hall’s defense and convicted him of first-degree murder on August 23, 1978. On March 13, 1979, Hall was sentenced to life in state prison. The California State Appellate Court affirmed his conviction on appeal, and the Supreme Court denied his petition for review.
Upon his conviction, Hall replaced his original counsel with Richard V. Cruz, who filed a writ of habeas corpus and was appointed a referee by the Supreme Court to take evidence and establish findings of fact. During a later hearing, the Lara brothers admitted that the evidence given at trial was flawed. To start, Victor Lara claimed that he “never got a good look at the gunman.” Additionally, there was a discrepancy in the height of the gunman and that of Hall. It was later revealed that the Lara brothers had “a substantial amount to drink” prior to the dispute on Buena Vista Street. Lastly, an employee of a nearby pizza shop was positive that Hall could not have been the shooter because of his height. Moreover, in his 1993 opinion concerning Hall’s civil suit for damages as a result of his wrongful conviction, Justice Mosk wrote that the “discovery of truth was hindered by the fact that the district attorney made a plea bargain with Alfred Reyes, a witness to the crime, who could have testified that Hall was not present at the scene of the crime and who also faced charges for an unrelated incident.” The plea bargain required Reyes to consult with the district attorney before assisting in Hall’s case. This plea bargain was also kept from Hall and his counsel.
Based on the above findings, the California Supreme Court granted Hall’s petition to review his case and as a result, later granted the writ of habeas corpus; overturning Hall's conviction and returning the case to the Los Angeles Superior Court. All charges against Gordon Robert Hall were thereafter dropped on February 18, 1982, with Los Angeles County District Attorney John Van de Camp stating “all the present available eye-witness testimony now tends to establish that (Hall) was not the person who shot Jesse Ortiz.”
In February 1983, Hall filed a civil complaint against eight Sheriff’s deputies and six deputies from the district attorney’s offices. He later amended that complaint to include the prosecutors, with causes of actions including false arrest, false imprisonment, and civil rights violations. Judge Melvin B. Grover ruled in favor of the county and the deputies, denying Hall's motion for a new trial. Hall then appealed and the California State Appellate Court affirmed in part and reversed in part and remanded for a new trial limited to Hall's claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, and civil rights violations.
After conducting a new civil trial in April 1993, the jury found in favor of Hall and awarded him $4.4 million dollars for his wrongful conviction and civil rights violations, while denying Hall’s request for attorney’s fees. Discontented with the verdict, all parties appealed the decision.
Upon a review of the case on March 14, 1996, the California State Appellate Court found that the District Attorney exercised independent judgment in his investigation of the case, which dismissed all liability from the sheriff's deputies that participated in Hall’s arrest unless Hall and his attorney could demonstrate malicious intent, which they could not. As a result, the Appellate Court ordered a new trial to determine the damages that Hall should receive for being falsely imprisoned but limited such damages to the date of his arrest to the date of his arraignment, a time period of seven days. Furthermore, the court reversed the order denying Hall’s motion for attorney's fees. A new trial to determine damages was scheduled to take place in 1998. Prior to the trial, a settlement of $650,000 was agreed upon and was paid to Hall in full.
- Researched by Michelle McClure and Courtney Cunningham
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.