Exclusive: 17 years in prison for a murder she didn't commit

Exclusive: 17 years in prison for a murder she didn't commit


By Katie Couric

Before last Friday, few people had heard the name Susan Mellen, but throughout the weekend her story began to spread across America, to the U.K., and even to Asia and Australia.

She spent her Friday night having dinner with her kids. Saturday she got her hair done. It sounds like a pretty average weekend, but for Mellen, these were experiences that at one time she wasn't sure she'd ever have again. Seventeen years ago, she had been arrested for the murder of Rick Daly, a transient man she once dated. He had been bludgeoned with a hammer and set on fire. Just hours after the jury began deliberations, the verdict was in — guilty. The sentence was life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Years went by, and she held on to the hope that someone would right this wrong. She had even written the word "freedom" on the bottom of her sneakers, and prayed the truth would be discovered.

In 2013, an attorney named Deirdre O'Connor, who runs an organization called Innocence Matters, had been investigating another case when she stumbled upon Mellen's. Something didn't add up.

O'Connor was able to prove the star witness, a woman named June Patti, whose testimony was pivotal to the conviction, was a pathological liar who made a habit of giving bad tips to police. Patti's testimony in court didn't match her initial statements about the crime, but Mellen's defense attorney at the time reportedly didn't object.

Just last week, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark Arnold threw out the conviction, saying, "The justice system had failed in this case." Mellen walked straight out of the courthouse to her children, Julie, 39; Jessica, 26; and Donnie, 25, and to her new grandson, Aidan, 16 months.

In my exclusive interview, I spoke with her about what it's like to finally have her life back. "When they handed me my grandson … it was so overwhelming and exciting just to hold him and just to know I was totally free," she told me.

She also talked about the way technology has changed since she was last a free woman.

"Watching people walking down the streets with phones was like, wow, don't people put those phones away?"

It's just one adjustment of many to come for Mellen, who will need to become reacquainted with a world she hasn't been a part of for nearly two decades.

Mellen's children told me the feeling of having their mother exonerated after all these years is "indescribable, surreal, and wonderful."

As she and her family make up for lost time, Mellen is enjoying the little things so many of us take for granted: hot showers, grocery shopping, and taking walks with her children.