CRIME STORY has received permission to feature profiles of exonerees represented by the California Innocence Project (CIP). The CIP reviews more than 2,000 claims of innocence each year and since its founding in 1999 has secured the release of dozens of innocent people who may otherwise have spent the rest of their lives wrongfully incarcerated.
Kimberly Long’s is “one of those classic cases where the person who finds the dead person ends up becoming a suspect,” says Justin Brooks, Director of the California Innocence Project. “Her case was paper thin when it went to trial, and now when you consider what we know since then, it’s absolutely a certainty that she’s innocent.”
In the early morning hours of October 6, 2003, Kimberly Long arrived home to discover her boyfriend bludgeoned to death in the couple’s living room. She immediately called 911. Responding paramedics arrived and determined her boyfriend, Oswaldo “Ozzy” Conde, had been dead for quite some time. His skin was an ashen color, and his body was cool to the touch and in the beginning stages of decomposition.
Kimberly was then taken to the Corona Police Department for an interview. She told officers she had last seen Ozzy around 11PM the night before. The two had gotten into an argument, she admitted, and Kimberly had stormed off with a friend named Jeff Dills. Because Kimberly admitted that she and Ozzy had argued, law enforcement polygraphed her. Kimberly passed the test.
Ozzy really had no enemies, though both he and Kimberly had been having problems with their respective exes. Initially, those close to Ozzy thought his ex-girlfriend was behind the murder, commenting, “I’m sure it was her. I mean, I’m positive. There’s nobody else… She was gonna kill him all the time. I mean, it’s only obvious, you know.” But a polygraph of Ozzy’s ex-girlfriend came back inconclusive.
Two days later, Jeff Dills told law enforcement that on the evening of Ozzy’s death, he had dropped Kimberly off around 1:20AM, 49 minutes before the 911 call came in. Officers believed Jeff, and, as such, could not ignore the gaping hole in Kimberly’s timeline. Nor could they focus on Ozzy’s ex-girlfriend as a suspect anymore, because if Ozzy’s ex had indeed committed the crime, that 49-minute window would be inexplicable.
Kimberly insisted that Jeff was wrong and that he must have been mistaken on the time. Unbeknownst to her, Jeff was also a suspect in the case and, at the same time, had offered to help law enforcement in the investigation. He died before he could be thoroughly questioned about his statement. Yet, the case against Kimberly proceeded to trial.
The first jury hung, with nine in favor of acquittal. The second jury returned a guilty verdict, though alternate jurors lamented to trial Judge Patrick F. Magers that the evidence was “by no means enough” to prove Kimberly’s guilt. Judge Magers, known to be prosecutor-friendly, agreed. Although he gave Kimberly a life sentence, he stated, “To make a perfectly clear record in this matter, if this was a court trial, if the Court would have heard the evidence in this case, I would have found the defendant not guilty. I would have found that the evidence was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. That is my trial court decision in this case. Obviously, it was not a court trial. It was a jury trial.”
Judge Magers was not the only judge to have a problem with Kimberly’s conviction. During the appeals process, a federal district court judge commented, “It is unfortunate that petitioner’s conviction largely hinged on the preliminary hearing testimony of a witness who died before trial.” A federal appeals court judge commented, “I have grave doubts about whether the State has convicted the right person in this case. Those doubts stem from the fact that it would have been virtually impossible for the defendant to commit the crime and eliminate all traces of her involvement even if she had arrived home at 1:20AM., as the State contends.”
Kimberly appeared before Judge Magers again, 11 years later. This time, she had conclusive proof of her innocence – forensic pathology evidence that Ozzy died long before 1:20AM; forensic evidence that the perpetrator would have had blood on them, and yet, she had not; and the presence of unknown male DNA at the crime scene. Kimberly also presented evidence of third-party motive. Ozzy had obtained a restraining order against his ex-girlfriend, who had, in the months leading up to his murder, made increasingly alarming phone calls to the couple’s house, at one point threatening to “slash” both Kim’s and Ozzy’s throats. In the victim’s own words, he said of his ex, “She said that my girlfriend [Kimberly] is going to get it and for me to watch my back and she is not going to let me see my son.” He elaborated, “She hates my girlfriend [Kimberly] & [sic] she is going to ruin our lives.”