L.A. Man Exonerated After Spending 20 Years In Prison for an Armed Robbery He Didn't Commit
A California man who spent two decades in prison on attempted murder and robbery charges was released on Tuesday by a Los Angeles judge, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Marco Contreras, now 41, was originally convicted of attempted murder and attempted robbery for a 1996 incident at a Compton gas station, according to a letter from prosecutors that was obtained by PEOPLE. He was serving a life sentence plus seven years.
Now, he’s looking forward to good Mexican food and time spent with family and on his faith, according to CBS Los Angeles.
“Keep fighting,” Contreras said in Spanish after his release, the Los Angeles Times reports. “Be patient and keep fighting.”
Contreras’ 75-year-old father, Donato, tells PEOPLE he is “really happy” with the exoneration and always believed this day would come.
“Everybody believed he was innocent,” Donato says. “He never had a ticket or a problem with the law.”
Donato says he saw Marco at the courthouse and he “looked energized.”
“I felt he was always innocent,” he says.
Attorneys at Loyola Law School’s Project for the Innocent and the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office Conviction Review Unit said that Marco was misidentified by an eyewitness as the gunman in the gas station shooting.
“We are thrilled and our client is thrilled. It’s been 20 long years,” Loyola law professor Laurie Levenson, who represents Marco, told NBC Los Angeles. “Thankfully this is a case that the district attorney’s office was committed to getting right.”
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Marco was actually at home during the shooting, according to CBS Los Angeles. His brother Miguel’s Bronco was used as the getaway car, according to the prosecution’s letter.
At Miguel’s 1997 hearing, the eyewitness pointed out Marco in the audience and claimed he was the gunman.
After Miguel served a 16-month prison sentence for being an accessory after the fact, he eventually identified the gunman to police and helped secretly record a conversation about the shooting.
As a result, attempted murder and conspiracy charges were filed against three other men for the crime on Thursday, reports the Times: Antonio Salgado, 41, Antonio Garcia, 61, and 46-year-old Ricardo Valencia.
Valencia and Garcia have pleaded not guilty, and Salgado has not yet been arraigned.
• Reporting by CHRISTINE PELISEK