August 08, 2011

Overturned case dropped

Father of four spent nine years in prison

ONTARIO - Prosecutors have dropped criminal charges against a man whose attempted murder conviction was overturned on appeal after he spent nine years in state prison.

Ontario resident Rafael Madrigal was released from prison two years ago when his conviction was set aside, but he faced the prospect of a new trial on charges that he participated in a shooting in 2000 in East Los Angeles.

On July 29 in the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in downtown Los Angeles, prosecutors announced they were unable to proceed with Madrigal's case, and a judge subsequently dismissed criminal charges upon a motion from Madrigal's defense attorneys.

"I'm glad now," said Madrigal, a 36-year-old married father of four. "I finally got all the weight off my shoulders. This is what I've been pushing for the last two years - the last 11, actually."

Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Victor Avila said charges could be refiled against Madrigal in the future. He declined to explain why Madrigal's prosecution was dropped.

Based primarily on eyewitness identifications, Madrigal was convicted by a jury of participating in a shooting at about 3p.m. on July 5, 2000, in which a man survived a bullet wound to the head.

Madrigal said he was at work in Rancho Cucamonga until 3:30 p.m. that day, and had numerous co-workers who were willing to testify in support of his alibi.

"There is compelling evidence in this case that (Madrigal) is actually innocent of the crime for which he was convicted," U.S. Magistrate Judge Marc L. Goldman wrote in a ruling two years ago.

Yet Madrigal's trial attorney, Andrew M. Stein, presented only one alibi witness and failed to introduce other evidence that would have helped Madrigal's case, Goldman wrote.

"Stein did not just botch one witness or one argument or one issue - he repeatedly demonstrated the lack of diligence required for a vigorous defense," Goldman wrote.

Madrigal was sentenced to 53 years to life in prison, and while incarcerated he said he sometimes wondered whether he would die in prison.

"California doesn't grant parole to lifers, so you have that in the back of your mind: `Am I going to be here the rest of my life? Am I going to die here?"' Madrigal said.

Madrigal said his parents borrowed against their home to hire an appellate attorney who enlisted the help of the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law in San Diego.

Madrigal's father died nine months prior to Madrigal's release from prison, and his family later lost their home to foreclosure.

Though Madrigal said he was overjoyed with his release from prison, he still worried over the prospect of a second trial and a second guilty verdict.

"It's always in the back of your mind," he said. "Given what I went though the first time, through a trial, anything can happen.

"You can have the best attorneys in the world, all the evidence in the world, but you don't know what a jury's going to decide. You always have that thought in the back of your mind, `What if?"'

Madrigal said his family is living in a rented home in Ontario, and he's working at a warehouse in the city, where he loads and unloads gardening and outdoor-living products from freight trucks.

"It's been a rough 11 years," Madrigal said. "But it's finally over, and me and my family can finally move on."

Will Bigham, Staff Writer - Created: 08/06/2011 07:06:29 AM PDT

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