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After Delay, Former Gang Member Exonerated

After a delay over the weekend due to his judge’s illness, former gang member John Edward Smith has been exonerated of murder charges.

Smith was convicted of a drive-by shooting murder he did not commit, based on the testimony of one eye witness, who recently recanted his story.

Landu Mvuemba, who is currently serving a jail sentence for sexual assault, was 16 at the time of the shooting. He and a friend were investigating the scene of a drive-by shooting from the night before, when a car pulled up and opened fire on the boys. Mvuemba was injured, and his friend was killed. He and Smith went to high school together, and Mvuemba at first testified that he had seen the other teenager’s face in the car, about 18 feet away.

However, when questioned recently regarding his testimony, Mvuemba quickly recanted. He said he had been pressured by the LAPD to identify Smith as the shooter, and he had tried to tell everyone he could that he was being pressured to lie – even the bailiff, as he took the stand. No one did anything to help.

Smith was sentenced to serve two life terms in prison. He and his family have been fighting hard for his freedom since his sentence, and finally contacted a new Los Angeles firm, Innocence Matters, to help exonerate him.

Smith was so enthusiastic about the group that he called before they had even filed their incorporation papers, said Deirdre O’Connor, a criminal defense attorney who helped form the group. However, when she began questioning him, she knew he was innocent. “It was effortless for him to answer all of my questions,” she stated, adding that guilty clients are hesitant and vague. Smith was straightforward.

On Monday, September 24th, Superior Court Judge Patricia Schnegg finally exonerated Smith of the murder charges. The courtroom erupted in applause and cheers, with Smith’s family shouting “We love you!” Judge Schnegg thanked both sides for “the opportunity to do justice,” and the crowd for their enthusiasm.

After serving 19 years in jail, Smith is now 37. “I had good days and bad days, I stayed hopeful and that’s all I could do,” he told reporters outside the jail downtown. “I’m not bitter at all, because that ain’t going to get me nowhere. I’ve got to move on.” He added that he was looking forward to seeing his grandmother, 79-year-old Laura Neal, who raised him, and mortgaged her house to pay for his defense. Ms. Neal said she had willed herself to stay alive until Smith was free. “There was a part of me that was in there too,” she said. “I am free now.”

A criminal record can follow you for a lifetime. If you have been wrongfully accused or convicted of a criminal activity, the state of South Carolina does not offer exoneration, but does offer expungement of criminal records. The attorneys at the Strom Law Firm can help. We offer free, confidential consultations to discuss the facts of your case, so contact us today.



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