The Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP), acting as amicus, assisted veteran appellate and post-conviction attorney Marc Zilversmit in reversing the conviction of Jamal Trulove, wrongfully convicted of murder after a single eyewitness implicated him in a killing San Francisco.
On January 6, following a grant of rehearing on direct appeal, the California Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District reversed the murder conviction of Jamal Trulove on claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and prejudicial prosecutorial misconduct.
Trulove’s murder conviction relied entirely upon the eyewitness, whose initial description was very vague and who had sat in a police interview room for 2 to 3 hours with a mug shot of Trulove on the wall in front of her, without ever identifying him. Her subsequent ID of him was tentative, and only many months later (after seeing him on an episode of a reality TV show) did the witness claim certainty. Attorney Zilversmit located two witnesses in support of the new trial motion, who testified to Trulove’s innocence. Nonetheless, the San Francisco Superior Court denied the motion and affirmed the verdict. Five additional witnesses then came forward, and Zilversmit filed a habeas petition alongside the direct appeal. The appeal raised claims of innocence based on eyewitness error, prosecutorial misconduct, and ineffective assistance of counsel.
The trial prosecutor had argued, without any support in the record, that the eyewitness was putting herself in danger by willingly implicating Trulove and that the jury should be as “courageous” as the witness. The Court of Appeal initially affirmed the conviction and denied the writ. Zilversmit then filed a petition for rehearing and reached out to NCIP for amicus support. NCIP filed an amicus curiae letter brief in support of rehearing and of granting the writ.
The Court granted rehearing, ordered further briefing and reversed Trulove’s conviction on the grounds that the prosecutor’s argument was prejudicial misconduct and defense counsel’s waiver of the issue by failure to object deprived Trulove of the effective assistance of counsel. The Court of Appeal denied the habeas petition as moot without ever evaluating the serious flaws in the eyewitness testimony or the impact of the seven additional defense witnesses on the strength of the case. The California Attorney General is still deciding whether it will seek review in the California Supreme Court.
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