Daniel Larsen had his conviction overturned but remains in prison. (Innocencemarch.com)Daniel Larsen had his felony conviction overturned more than two years ago. But the California man continues to sit in a California prison while the state attorney general appeals a federal magistrate's decision to release the 45-year-old from jail.
"It's reflexive, it's just what they do," Larsen's attorney Jan Stiglitz told Southern California Public Radio. "They have never been willing to sit down and interview our witnesses."
On Monday, the California Innocence Project and Larsen's fiancée delivered 100,000 petition signatures from individuals demanding an immediate release for Larsen. The California Innocence Project is a program at the California Western School of Law, which works to release wrongfully convicted men and women from prison.
So how did Larson end up in prison in the first place?
In 1999, he was convicted of being a felon in possession of a concealed weapon. Police witnesses claim they saw Larsen throw a knife under a car. He was already on strike two of California's "three strikes law," meaning he was then sentenced to a prison term of 27 years to life.
But in 2009, the California Innocence Project brought forward two witnesses to contest the police claims. Adding weight to the testimony, one of the witnesses is himself a former police chief. Both he and his wife testified that they never saw Larsen in possession of a knife.
"It's an eyewitness to the event," Stiglitz said. "One that was never produced at trial because Daniel Larsen's lawyer was constitutionally and practically deficient."
In response, a federal magistrate ruled that Larsen had been denied constitutionally protected rights to a fair trial and ordered him released immediately. However, the California Office of the Attorney General appealed that decision, saying Larsen neglected to file a federal habeas action within a one-year deadline.
"A federal habeas petition filed even one day late is untimely and must be dismissed," according to the appeal.
Stanford Law School professor Robert Weisberg told the L.A. Times he believes the attorney general's office is making an example out of Larsen's case in order to prevent an "onslaught" of similar claims from other prisoners. What they're saying is, this guy had his chances. At a certain point the music has to stop, and a case just has to be closed," Weisberg told the paper. "We're afraid that lots of people who were not unjustly convicted are going to be encouraged to frame their case as the injustice of the century."
Nonetheless, Stiglitz says he believes a proposed meeting will now take place with the attorney general's office sometime in the next two weeks.
"He's a believer now," Larsen's fiancée, Christina Combs, told the station. "With what's going on this week and over the past two weeks with the petition, he believes now. And he's coming home and he knows it."