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.
Reggie Cole’s 1994 murder conviction was largely based on the testimony of John Jones, an alleged eyewitness to the shooting of Felipe Angeles. John, who lived in an apartment building in front of the crime scene, testified that he saw Reggie shoot Felipe and then saw Reggie either fall and hurt his leg or get shot in the leg by another gunman as he ran away. Police searched for possible suspects with leg injuries who had sought medical treatment at local hospitals. Two days after the incident, Arthur Jones, an employee at a local hospital, saw a man with a leg injury and identified him as Reggie Cole.
The testimony of John Jones and Arthur Jones (who are not related) went unchallenged until 2007, when Reggie faced the death penalty for the murder of Eddie “the Devil” Clark, whom Reggie stabbed in self-defense during a prison fight in November of 2000.
After five years of investigation following the killing of “the Devil,” Reggie’s counsel, Christopher Plourd, filed a motion showing much of John’s testimony had been fabricated and exculpatory evidence was never disclosed to the defense. Christopher Plourd also discovered a Los Angeles Times Magazine article published in 1995 and a book entitled The Killing Season published in 1997, both written by Miles Corwin. Corwin wrote, in detail, about the police investigation into Reggie’s case and about new information pointing to Reggie’s innocence. In 2007, Judge Donal B. Donnelly ordered an evidentiary hearing to consider the new evidence in the motion.
During the evidentiary hearing, John testified that he had not told the whole truth when interviewed by detectives because he was operating a prostitution house out of his apartment building at the time. John testified that he had not personally seen the crime happen, but rather got his description of the shooter from his daughters, TJ and Angela Jones. TJ testified she saw the shooter on the night of the incident and again on her birthday, April 11, 1994. By April 11, 1994, Reggie was already in custody for the Felipe Angeles homicide and thus could not have been the person TJ saw. Additionally, John Jones testified that one of the detectives had told him before trial about a bullet wound in Reggie’s leg. With that information, John became certain his identification was correct. However, Reggie was not shot in the leg on March 27, 1994; the wound was from years prior to the crime. John told investigators, “if he – [Reggie] – was not shot that night, he ain’t the man” who committed the crime.
At the conclusion of the 2007 hearing, Judge Donnelly granted the motion and struck the underlying conviction on the grounds that Reggie had received constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel. In 2009, the California Innocence Project filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus on Reggie’s behalf, alleging that Reggie had received ineffective assistance of counsel when his trial attorney failed to investigate and present exculpatory evidence; that the prosecution had withheld material, exculpatory evidence; that false evidence had been introduced against Reggie at his trial; and that the prosecutor had engaged in misconduct. The District Attorney conceded on the habeas petition, and Reggie’s murder conviction was vacated.
Christopher Plourd commented, “Reggie Cole’s 15-year nightmare of unjust captivity ends with the dismissal of murder charges that brought him face to face with the death penalty. Justice, though long denied, has been realized through a search for the truth and the support of his loving family and determined supporters.” “Mr. Cole is ecstatic, his family is ecstatic, this is a great day,” said Justin Brooks, Director of the California Innocence Project.