After an 1989 conviction based on false testimony from a police informant, 40-year-old Caramad Conley was released from the San Francisco County Jail on January 12. He was convicted of murder resulting from a drive-by shooting that killed two people and injured 13 others and was sentenced to two life sentences without parole.
Last month, San Francisco Superior Court Judge ruled that Conley’s conviction had been arrived at through perjured testimony, and that the informant who served as the prosecution’s star witness, Clifford Polk, received thousands of dollars and the use of a house from the city in exchange for his testimony, then lied on the stand when he denied receiving any benefits.
Polk, now deceased, testified that Conley had confessed to him about the shooting, and then-homicide investigator Earl Sanders, who would later become police chief, had stood by in court while Polk lied.
“I find that Sanders knew the testimony was false and did not correct it,” Judge Miller wrote. Prosecutors then ruled that as the key witnesses were dead or unavailable, they would not move to retry Conley. He was released a little after 4pm last Wednesday, saying as he left the jail, “I’m going to take it one day at a time.”
As we have noted before, many wrongful convictions involve testimony from informants who may have ulterior motives or other incentives to falsify stories. The Innocence Project of New York has put together a dossier about the effects informants and snitches can have on a case. As in Caramad Conley’s case, informants who have incentives to testify often fabricate some or all of their testimony and significantly influence a guilty verdict.
Some communities have also begun offering large cash rewards to inmates who come forward with info about a crime. This may also offer incentive for informants to fabricate testimony that can link innocent people to crimes they didn’t commit.
SFGate – Man Wrongfully Convicted of 2 Murders Freed
Houston Chronicle – Harris Co. Sheriff Offers Cash for Jailhouse Tipsters
The Innocence Project – Understand the Causes: Informants