John J. Tennison spent a decade in prison for a murder he claimed he didn’t commit, the San Francisco Bay Guardian reports. “Living in a six-by-eight-foot cell in a maximum security lockup, surrounded by a sea of lifers, Tennison kept his head down, trying to keep from being shanked or beaten or raped. During the day he worked an 18¢-an-hour job in the prison print shop. At night he called his mom and brother collect, or connected with the outside via FM radio.”
Tennison and another man had been convicted of murdering 17-year-old Roderick “Cooley” Shannon in 1989, in a gang war.
Writer A. C. Thompson became convinced that they was not guilty, but he says that “the criminal justice system is stacked against convicts who assert their innocence. Amazingly, in most cases the defendant’s ‘actual innocence’ – to use a legal term – isn’t even grounds for canceling a guilty verdict. Despite what you’ve seen on TV, an infinitesimally small number of cons ever have their sentences overturned.”
But after losing many appeals, federal judge Claudia Wilken last week issued a 103-page ruling voiding his conviction. Wilken said cops and prosecutors had buried a slew of pertinent clues, keeping key evidence, like the fact that a witness had cleared the defendants and blamed another man for the killing, from defense lawyers.
The Guardian say the ruling “suggests what many of us close to the case have long suspected: that three high-profile San Francisco law enforcers – police inspector Napoleon Hendrix, Prentice Earl Sanders, who recently retired as police chief, and longtime assistant district attorney George Butterworth – deliberately framed two men.”