Timothy Atkins of Venice experienced his first day of freedom in more than 20 years Friday, February 9th, after a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled that he was wrongly convicted in the 1985 murder of a man in Venice.
Atkins, now 40, was released from Los Angeles County Jail without bail nearly two decades after he was convicted in July 1987 of second-degree murder and two counts of robbery as an accomplice in an attempted carjacking.
He was sentenced to 32 years in prison for the crime, which occurred on New Year’s Day 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.
Superior Court Judge Michael Tynan overturned Atkins’ conviction and ordered his release Thursday, February 8th, after key prosecution witness Denise Powell recanted her testimony.
Powell, who had told police that Atkins had confessed to being an accomplice in the killing, recently testified in a Los Angeles courtroom that she fabricated the story of Atkins’ confession, according to attorneys with the California Innocence Project, which works to free wrongly convicted inmates.
In recanting her testimony, Powell testified that she had made the confession up and was having trouble living with that lie, according to the California Innocence Project, which is part of the California Western School of Law in San Diego.
Justin Brooks, Atkins’ attorney and director of the California Innocence Project, said project attorneys petitioned Tynan to consider the new evidence of Powell’s testimony that proved Atkins’ innocence.
After project attorneys presented the evidence that Powell’s original testimony was false, Tynan, who was the original trial judge when Atkins was convicted, overturned the conviction, saying Powell’s testimony was a key piece of evidence for the conviction in the case.
“We’re unbelievably relieved and incredibly happy,” Brooks said of Tynan’s ruling. “This is why we do the work we do.”
Brooks, who said California Innocence Project researchers spent four years working on the case, noted the significance of Tynan’s ruling, saying “these wins are rare.”
Atkins is the fifth client that has been freed by the work of the California Innocence Project since it was created in 2000.
“It feels unbelievable to give him his life back. He lost a huge portion of it,” said Brooks, pointing out that Atkins went to prison as a teenager and has come out a middle-aged man.
The news that he was released and able to go home came as a “shock” to Atkins, who spent the first day of his newfound freedom with his family, Brooks said.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has 60 days to refile charges against Atkins. District attorney spokeswoman Jane Robison said prosecutors have not yet made a decision as to whether to retry the case.
But Brooks said he does not expect any charges to be refiled.
Having spent a majority of his life away from his hometown, Atkins plans to move back to Venice to live with his father, Brooks said. Among Atkins’ goals is to enroll at California State University at Los Angeles, where he hopes to earn a degree in counseling that will allow him to work with at-risk youths in Venice, Brooks said.