Man wrongfully convicted of robbing customer in Watts restaurant is exonerated after serving 7 years in prison

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A man who was wrongfully convicted of robbing a customer in a Watts restaurant in 2013 has been exonerated, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday.

Derrick Harris, of Los Angeles, served seven years in prison after he was convicted of second-degree robbery, possession of a firearm and disobeying a court order.

Authorities said Harris had robbed a customer at a fast-food restaurant in Watts on July 1, 2013.

During the trial, the victim identified Harris as one of two men who pointed a handgun at him and took his gold chain necklace.

Harris was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but he maintained his innocence.

Earlier this year, the California Innocence Project submitted a claim of factual innocence to the District Attorney’s Office Conviction Review Unit on behalf of Harris.

The claim revealed new evidence: a written statement from the second suspect in the case, indicating that Harris did not commit the robbery with him, officials said.

The review unit interviewed the second suspect and developed evidence that led to the identification of a new suspect, who eventually confessed to committing the robbery, officials said.

The man, however, was not charged in the case because the three-year statute of limitations for robbery had run out, officials explained.

Harris’ conviction was vacated and he was permanently released from prison. The case against him was dismissed with prejudice and he was found factually innocent, officials explained.

“The District Attorney’s Office not only lost faith in his conviction but also was convinced Harris is, in fact, innocent of the crimes,” officials said in a news release.

District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement Tuesday that the case underscores the ethical duties of prosecutors to seek justice.

“I am grateful to the man who told the truth, that Mr. Harris was not involved in this crime, which ignited our reinvestigation of this case,” she said.

Harris walked out of a Los Angeles courthouse a free man Tuesday morning, holding onto his young son.

He told awaiting journalists that he felt “blessed” and that his release was “a long time coming.”

“My son was 2 when I left. He’s 9 now. I’m just happy,” Harris said about his release.

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