Truth will out—thanks to an SCU law student

Curtis Macon helps free an innocent man from prison.

Santa Clara law student Curtis Macon has helped free an innocent man from prison. Through his work as an intern with University’s Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP), Macon assisted a public defender with assembling evidence that proved that 29-year-old Jeffrey Rodriguez could not have committed the crime of which he was convicted in 2001.

On Feb. 5, Rodriguez, whose home is in Santa Clara County, was freed after he served nearly six years in prison following a robbery conviction. The evidence against him consisted of the victim’s eyewitness testimony of the robbery and a spot on Rodriguez’s jeans that a Santa Clara criminalist testified was motor oil. The prosecution argued that the oil was transferred onto the jeans during the crime, which took place behind an auto parts store.

Rodriguez was arrested the morning after the robbery when the robbery victim, standing in line at the DMV, noticed Rodriguez standing in another line; she told the police that Rodriguez was the man who robbed her.

In Rodriguez’s first trial, his attorney called an expert witness to dispute the criminalist’s findings and called several alibi witnesses in Rodriguez’s defense. That trial ended in a hung jury, voting 11-1 for acquittal. At the second trial, the same defense attorney failed to call the expert because he said there was no money left to hire one. Nor did he call the alibi witnesses. Rodriguez was convicted and, under the “three strikes” rules in California, he was sentenced to 25 years to life.

Appellate attorney Irma Castillo successfully won a new trial for Rodriguez after convincing the 6th District Court of Appeals that his trial counsel had been ineffective. Public defender Andy Gutierrez was appointed to represent him and contacted NCIP for help.

Macon, a student intern at NCIP, worked with Gutierrez on investigation and research, including diagramming discrepancies in the victim’s identification testimony and re-enacting the crime. They had the jeans retested, which showed that there was no oil on the pants; and they used video forensic experts to prove Rodriguez’s jacket was not the one in the surveillance video. Based on this new exculpatory evidence, the district attorney decided to drop charges against Rodriguez, and in February he was released from prison. KCS

post-image Coming home: SCU law student Curtis Macon, right, with Jeffrey Rodriguez and family. Photo: David Gonzales
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