Man found innocent after 19 years

By Rahsaan Thomas

While serving 75 years to life for a robbery he didn’t commit, Guy Miles missed seeing his children grow up, the birth of his grandkids and the death of family members. Throughout the whole time, he has professed his innocence to the courts, various innocence projects and fellow prisoners.

The courts overturned his conviction after 19 years of persistence, a chance meeting with one of the actual robbers, the help of the California Innocence Project, three evidentiary hearings and a change in the standard for review of new evidence.

“Guy Miles is in state prison for 75 years to life,” wrote 4th District Appeals Court in its opinion granting relief. “A jury convicted him of armed robbery, and he has been in custody for almost 19 years. … But now he has presented ‘new evidence’ to this court that is of such decisive force and value that it would have more likely than not changed the outcome of the trial.”

Miles has always claimed he was innocent of the armed robbery committed by three men. Two prosecution witnesses identified him as one of the robbers. One of those witnesses couldn’t identify Miles until the prosecutor showed her a color photo of Miles right before her in-court identification, according to the court’s opinion.

Several witnesses placed Miles in Las Vegas at the time of the robbery in Orange County.

Miles never gave up. For nine years, he said he filed about 13 writs (appeals) on his own, without any new evidence.

“Keep fighting, keep hope alive and never let nobody tell you that you can’t make it happen,” said Miles.

He also said he wrote to about six different organizations for help. The Innocence Project took his case.

“I wrote Innocence Project back in 2001,” said Miles “They kept denying me, but I kept writing them. I probably wrote them three times. I refused to believe that an organization like that wouldn’t jump at the chance to find the truth.”

While imprisoned, he met Jason Steward, who admitted to committing the crime with two other men. The Innocence Project helped him get statements from Bernard Teamer, Steward and Harold Bailey, who all confessed that they committed the robbery and that Miles had no part of it.

The Innocence Project filed a writ in the Orange County Superior Court in 2010. Bailey refused to testify, but Steward and Teamer both did. Applying the old standard, the court found that the new evidence did not point unerringly to Miles’ innocence.

In 2013, the appellate court again ordered an evidentiary hearing held by a referee, Orange County Superior Judge Thomas M. Goethals. The judge found that Miles did not meet the standard for habeas relief because the witnesses did not have credibility.

Previously the State Supreme Court ruled that new evidence must point unerringly to innocence and completely undermine the prosecution’s case.

The procedural law changed when Senate Bill 1134 went into effect Jan. 1. (Cal. Penal Code, 1473, subd. (b)(3)(A).) Sen. Mark Leno D-San Francisco sponsored the bill that Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law.

Miles’ case was the first to have the new evidence standard applied, according to a San Francisco Daily Journal article.

“The old standard was pretty impossible to meet. The new standard put us on a much stronger foothold,” California Innocence Project Litigation Director Alissa Bjerkhoel said.

The California Innocence Project was the primary entity which pioneered the new evidence standard law change. They drafted the bill’s language and helped get it pushed through Sacramento.

Bjerkhoel said that new evidence cases denied under the old standard could refile using the same evidence for review under the new standard.

“They can try again,” said Bjerkhoel. 

In 2016, State Appellate Court ordered another referee to make evidentiary findings. The Orange County Superior Court denied relief for a third time.

When Miles re-filed his case in the State Appellate court, they granted relief on Jan. 23.

Judge J. Moore wrote in a separate opinion that, “I believe there were significant problems with the eyewitness identifications, including suggestive photographic lineups and improper prosecutorial tactics which resulted in Miles’ conviction.”

“The majority opinion does not find Miles to be ‘factually innocent.’ But there is a strong likelihood that an innocent man has spent almost 19 years in custody for a crime he did not commit.”

Miles said,  “They have 60 days to retry me or let me go. All the letdowns you have while you’re doing time taught me not to over think it.”

If Miles goes home on actual innocence, he won’t get the standard help parolees get, like $200 at the prison exit gate or transitional housing.

“I’ll get thrown out in the street without any financial support except a lawsuit if it gets granted,” said Miles. “I’m blessed to have my family’s support.”

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