The last hints of Republican opposition to pay a Latino man wrongfully imprisoned for a robbery/carjacking he did not commit disappeared this week in the California legislature after Assemblyman Todd Spitzer (R-Orange) called on his colleagues to do the right thing.
“As a society we have a responsibility to make that [injustice] right,” Spitzer (pictured) said in an August 18 floor speech regarding a proposed and legally sanctioned $100-per-day fee to Ochoa for time spent locked in prison.
The Assembly then unanimously approved the measure and sent it back on a technicality to the State Senate, where, for three months, the measure had languished due to senate Republicans, who had deceitfully compared James Ochoa to a “convicted rapist.”
But thanks to Democratic senators as well as Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), Dick Ackerman (R-Fullerton) and the behind-the-scenes work of Scott Baugh, chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, the proposed $31,700 payment to Ochoa finally passed that body earlier this month.
The final decision on the payment now rests with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Getting to this point has been difficult for Ochoa, who was 20 years old in May 2005, when a Buena Park police SWAT team broke down the front door of his parents' house before dawn, rushed in with guns drawn, terrified the large family and dragged him off to a hellish 16-month nightmare that landed him in a California desert prison cell.
As I've noted in previous reports, the villains included sloppy cops, a tainted police dog handler, unethical prosecutors and an elderly superior court judge (Robert R. Fitzgerald) so warped he shouldn't preside over a charity pingpong match in Leisure World.
But there have been heroes, too: a relentless defense lawyer who worked for free because he couldn't ignore the injustice, an outraged alternative weekly newspaper, an Orange County sheriff's crime lab specialist who refused a prosecutor's secret request to alter DNA finding from the crime scene, California Department of Justice that continued to look for the real bandit and, once the full story was known, politicians who've advocated paying Ochoa the legally sanctioned $100-per-day fee for the time he spent in prison.
“Let me tell you something,” Spitzer told his colleagues, “to be wrongfully charged, to sit in prison for 10 months and also Orange County Jail [for an additional five months] for $31,700? That's unconscionable.”
Spitzer–an ex-Orange County supervisor who will leave the Assembly and resume another old job, as a county prosecutor, in December–believes the $100-per-day fee should be increased and periodically raised based on inflation.
“I'm going back to be a prosecutor because I want to be part of a system that does justice,” he said.
Previous coverage of the Ochoa nightmare includes:
& the original article outlining how the government was poised to send an innocent man to prison:
— R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly
CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; won inclusion in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting for his coverage of a white supremacist’s senseless murder of a beloved Vietnamese refugee; launched multi-year probes that resulted in the FBI arrests and convictions of the top three ranking members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; and gained praise from New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.