A California man who spent a quarter-century behind bars for shooting at a group of teenagers — an attack he denied committing — was freed from prison on Thursday after the governor commuted his sentence, his attorneys said.
Quintin Morris, 53, was released from Folsom State Prison near Sacramento after being granted parole last year, according to the California Innocence Project, which spent more than a dozen years on his case.
“I feel good. I feel good,” Morris said repeatedly after his release, according to Michael Semanchik, managing attorney for the San Diego-based organization.
Morris, wearing a suit and tie, hugged his sister Billie Sullivan, who flew in from Pennsylvania to greet him, Semanchik said, adding that Morris planned to spend the night with an aunt in the Los Angeles area.
“It was surreal watching Quintin walk out of prison after more than 27 years for a crime he did not do. I cried. He cried. His family cried,” said Alissa Bjerkhoel, his lead attorney. “To think about three decades worth of holidays, birthdays, graduations, births, and other significant events that he missed is pretty overwhelming.”
Morris is expected to spend several months in a halfway house in the Los Angeles area learning to readjust to society.
“He has a lot PTSD. He has to live on the outside again,” Semanchik said.
Morris was convicted of being a masked gunman who opened fire on four teenagers in the Pacoima area of the San Fernando Valley in November 1991. His lawyers say Morris and his friends were stopped by police at a red light near the crime scene while making a beer run for a party.
Although the gunman was masked, one teenager identified Morris as the attacker. Although no scientific evidence linked him to the crime, a jury convicted Morris and in 1994 he was sentenced to 33 years to life, after already spending several years behind bars while his case proceeded.
The conviction was briefly overturned by the trial judge but the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office won on appeal.
Messages seeking comment from the office about Morris’s release were not immediately returned Thursday.
Last August, Brown commuted Morris’s sentence to 25 years to life, making him eligible for parole.
Brown said no physical evidence tied Morris to the crime, his motive for such an attack was unclear, and another man confessed to the crime in the early 1990s and continues to insist he was the shooter.
Brown also noted that in 2000, a federal judge recommended that Morris seek clemency, saying the court had “significant doubt” as to whether he committed the crime.
Brown also noted that the trial judge in Morris’s case, Michael Hoff, expressed concerns about the evidence in the case and asked the prosecutor to consider dismissing it.
In 2013, Hoff wrote to support clemency for Morris and more recently told a parole board: “I don’t think he did it,” according to Brown’s commutation statement.