A man was exonerated Tuesday after serving 11 years in prison for an armed robbery series in Boyle Heights he didn’t commit.
Ruben Martinez Jr. walked free after prosecutors acknowledged his innocence in a series of five armed robberies at an auto shop, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in an afternoon news briefing.
Martinez's case marks the first time an inmate without an attorney has been exonerated through the DA's office's conviction review process, according to Lacey.
"Mr. Martinez and his wife proved to be unstoppable in their pursuit of his freedom," she said. "Throughout this terrible experience, the two were never deterred by setbacks and instead demonstrated remarkable strength and dignity through what I imagine must have been a dark time in their lives."
Martinez was convicted in April 2008 on nine counts of second-degree robbery for the crimes targeting an Earl Scheib body shop on Soto Boulevard from December 2005 to May 2007. He was sentenced to 47 years and eight months in state prison.
Martinez had sought freedom through a series of appeals, but they were all denied. Standing beside Lacey on Tuesday, he said it was “God’s strength that got me through.”
"I did not do this time by myself," he said. "My family did time. My wife did time with me; did the 11 years with me. I couldn’t do it on my own."
His situation turned around after his wife and a former sheriff's detective the couple know filed a claim with the DA's Conviction Review Unit, which was established in 2015. The unit has received more than 1,900 claims, but this is only the third time a conviction has been vacated.
Investigators who reviewed Martinez's case tracked down new witnesses, employment records and paystubs that proved he was at work during two of the robberies.
Lacey said much of the conviction was based on the sole witness who saw the robber unmasked identifying Martinez, who bears a striking resemblance to the perpetrator.
“I think the lesson to be learned is for us in the justice system to take a very close look at any case where we’re depriving somebody of their liberty and make sure that the evidence is strong and not subject to any other interpretation,” Lacey said.
Martinez said he's thankful there's a unit “to sort out the truth and the lies.”
Since his Nov. 5 release, Martinez says he's been looking for a job, studying to get a driver’s license and “looking forward to paying my first bill.”
"I’ve got no remorse, no grudges," he said. "I just want to move forward with my life, with my wife."
For more information on the DA's Conviction Review Unit and how to file a claim, click here.