LOS ANGELES — A California man was freed from custody Tuesday afternoon after serving more than 13 years in prison for a crime a federal judge and the California Innocence Project say he didn’t commit.
Federal Judge Suzanne Segal ordered the release of Daniel Larsen, who was convicted in 1999 of carrying a concealed knife, a third strike for the twice-convicted burglar.
Police alleged he had tossed the 6-inch blade under a car after a brawl in a Northridge bar.
“You’re being given a rare opportunity here,” Segal said. “I hope you use this opportunity well. Don’t violate the trust the court has put in you.”
Bailiffs unlocked Segal’s shackles as he smiled broadly and his family watched, sharing tears of joy.
Although a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judge ordered his release in 2010, he had languished in prison.
The California Innocence Project found several witnesses — including a former chief of police — who stated that they saw a different man throw the knife away, not Larsen.
Larsen’s defense attorney during his trial never called a witness in his defense. That attorney was eventually disbarred.
The Innocence Project filed an appeal under habeas corpus that eventually reached the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
That judge found Larsen to be “actually innocent,” a legal term that allows Larsen to be released from prison while his case works its way through the courts.
The judge found Larsen was not given an adequate defense.
The state attorney general’s office is fighting Larsen’s release on technicalities related to the filing of his appeals and maintains he is guilty.
It is unclear whether he will be re-tried. He may also be re-sentenced under Proposition 36, which amended the three-strikes law to require that the third strike be a serious or violent felony.