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James W. Preston

An armed man wearing a mask robbed, shot and seriously wounded Stella Parsons in her Los Angeles home on October 18, 1924. A few days later, 24-year-old James W. Preston (also known as Carl Cammerhyenk) was arrested on unrelated charges of vagrancy and petty larceny and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. While he was serving that sentence, the California Bureau of Criminal Identification erroneously matched his fingerprints with prints left by the culprit in the Parsons home. Mrs. Parsons then erroneously identified Preston—by his voice, eyes, and general appearance—as the man who had attacked her. On November 20, 1924, Preston was charged with her attempted murder and robbery.
Before Preston went to trial for the Parsons crime in March 1925, H. L. Barlow, a Los Angeles Police Department fingerprint expert, disputed the Bureau of Criminal Identification’s contention that the prints matched. As a result, the prosecutor, Los Angeles County District Attorney W. B. Heinecke, did not introduce the fingerprint evidence. Rather, Heinecke relied solely on the identification testimony of Mrs. Parsons. Preston did not testify, likely to avoid disclosure that he had a prior record for burglary. On March 14, 1925, the jury found Preston guilty, and Judge Carlos S. Hardy sentenced him to an indeterminate term of 11 years to life in prison.
A year later, on a hunch, Barlow compared the fingerprints found in the Parsons home with those of burglar Earl M. (The Weasel) Carroll and found that they matched. Carroll was charged with the Parsons crime. Without objection from the prosecution, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Edward J. Tyrell ordered Preston’s release on July 27, 1926.
On September 2, 1926, Governor Friend William Richardson granted Preston a full pardon. In granting the pardon, the Governor said: “Preston’s fingerprints did not match the fingerprints on the screen of the residence where the robbery took place. Had this fact been presented to the jury by the District Attorney, as it should have been, Preston would not have been convicted in my opinion. District Attorneys represent the people in criminal cases and should seek justice rather than convictions. Preston is unquestionably innocent of this crime.”
Two months later, Preston filed a lawsuit seeking $250,000 in damages from Stella Parsons for her misidentification. The outcome of this lawsuit is unknown.
In September 1927, Earl M. Carroll was convicted of robbing and assaulting Stella Parsons.
– Researched by Rob Warden and Meghan Barrett Cousino
County:Los Angeles
Most Serious Crime:Attempted Murder
Reported Crime Date:1924
Sentence:11 years to life
Age at the date of crime:24
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID