More than 20 years after he went to prison for murder and nearly two months after a judge overturned his conviction, Timothy Atkins of Venice can now truly feel like a free man.
Atkins, now 39, was released from Los Angeles County Jail in early February, nearly two decades after he was convicted, in July 1987, of second-degree murder and two counts of robbery as an accomplice in the shooting death of a man in Venice.
Superior Court Judge Michael Tynan, the original trial judge when Atkins was convicted, overturned Atkinsí conviction after key prosecution witness Denise Powell recanted her testimony.
The Los Angeles County District Attorneyís Office was given 60 days to refile charges against Atkins, but prosecutors announced to the court Friday, April 6th, that they would not retry the case.
Deputy District Attorney Scott Collins said there were a ìnumber of factorsî that went into the decision, including factual findings of the court that made it very difficult for prosecutors to move forward in the case.
ìBased on the trial courtís ruling and the current state of the evidence as it exists in 2007, we felt we no longer were able to go forward in this case,î Collins said. ìThis case was thoroughly reviewed by the D.A.ís office before making a decision.î
Justin Brooks, Atkinsí attorney and director of the California Innocence Project, said he was not surprised at the decision by prosecutors, adding that they had ìabsolutely no caseî after Powell recanted her testimony and Tynan ruled that Atkins was wrongly convicted.
ìWe expected it all along, that thatís what their decision would be,î Brooks said.
Atkins was sentenced to 32 years in prison for the crime, which occurred on New Yearís Day in 1985, when florist Vincente Gonzalez was shot to death and his wife Maria was robbed of a necklace in their car on Brooks Avenue in Venice.
Powell, who had originally told police that Atkins had confessed to being an accomplice in the killing, recanted that testimony, saying she fabricated the story of Atkinsí confession, according to the California Innocence Project, which works to free wrongly convicted inmates.
In recanting her testimony, Powell testified that she had made up the confession and was having trouble living with that lie, according to the California Innocence Project.
The decision by the District Attorneyís Office to drop the charges means that Atkins can finally ìmove on with his life,î Brooks said.
ìHeís totally free as if he was never convicted,î Brooks said.
When learning of his freedom, Atkins showed little emotion, Brooks said, noting that Atkinsí ìstoicî attitude is what enabled him to survive over 20 years in prison.
While prosecutors have chosen not to move forward in the case against Atkins, they still believe that Atkins was properly convicted for the 1985 crime, Collins said.
But Brooks denounced that allegation, saying that prosecutors should instead be looking at what went wrong in the conviction of Atkins.
Atkinsí attorneys plan to seek compensation for the time he spent in prison. Atkins is entitled to $100 for every day he was incarcerated, so he could potentially receive over $800,000 in compensation, Brooks said.
Atkins, who is now living with his father, has enrolled at California State University to study counseling and he plans to work with at-risk youths in his hometown community of Venice, Brooks said.
ìHeís doing amazingly well,î Brooks said.