Loyola Clinics Secure Freedom for 2 Clients Who Served 4 Decades in Prison
Two Loyola Law School, Los Angeles clinic clients who served a collective four decades behind bars walked out of prison on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, thanks to the efforts of students, attorneys and volunteers in the school’s Juvenile Innocence & Fair Sentencing (JIFS) Clinic and Loyola Project for the Innocent (LPI).
Reggie DeAndre Mallard
After spending 16 years in prison for a sentence handed down to him as a 17-year-old, Reggie DeAndre Mallard was freed after JIFS advocates helped secure a plea deal. The arrangement came on the heels of a years-long effort to prove Mallard’s innocence after he was wrongfully convicted of murder and conspiracy in 2003 and sentenced to 26 years to life in prison.
During the course of their investigation and string of court filings, JIFS attorneys and student advocates uncovered evidence of several Brady violations, or instances of prosecutorial misconduct. These included failure to disclose that a DNA test of a ski mask related to the crime came up negative for Mallard and his co-defendants; as well as a confession from a defendant in another crime, who confessed to being the shooter in the murder and claimed the 34-year-old inmate was not present. This evidence was not turned over despite many requests over a number of years.
Meanwhile, JIFS faculty, students and volunteers investigated the case themselves. They interviewed the co-defendants and other members of the gang to which Mallard was believed to be a part of at the time of the 2001 shooting. Three of them stated that they were present at the crime and that Mallard was not involved. All of them told the same story: That the prosecution’s chief informant was the prime mover behind the crime, railroaded the youngsters into committing it, and then turned on whomever he thought he could implicate.
“For five years, student investigators at the JIFS Clinic uncovered evidence that the police had either failed to discover or turn over,” says Professor Chris Hawthorne ’00, director of the JIFS Clinic. “It was difficult work. We knocked on a lot of doors and visited a lot of prisons. But the case didn’t really take off until Public Interest Fellow Marisa Sacks ’17 took charge of the habeas corpus petition and really started to litigate this case. For over three years – starting as a student - she has been the motor on this case, and Mr. Mallard’s lifeline in prison.”
In April 2017, the JIFS Clinic filed a habeas petition in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging actual innocence. The District Attorney’s Office, after a year of extensions, strongly resisted, filing hundreds of pages of pleadings and exhibits. The judge disagreed and ordered a hearing set for March 2019. Those events prompted an offer of an 11-year flat sentence for voluntary manslaughter.
While Mallard has maintained his innocence since he went to prison, he accepted the plea deal, despite his innocence, to avoid spending six or more years in prison.
Mallard is grateful, but realistic. “There is nothing easy about what I’ve had to overcome. It’s been a long, hard journey—one I couldn’t have made it through alone. I’m just thankful for all the prayers, support and the team of great people at Loyola who stood by me and fought to get my life back.”
“It’s a great day because Reggie DeAndre Mallard is getting out of prison,” adds Professor Hawthorne. “It’s bittersweet, because he never should have been there in the first place. But it’s inspiring to see law students do such impressive work on a complex and difficult case. They seized the wheels of injustice, and turned them back."
After spending 25 years in prison on a first-degree murder conviction for a crime he did not commit, Michael Tirpak was reunited with his wife and daughter thanks to the efforts of LPI students and attorneys. The release, which relied on innovative arguments, marks the eighth client the LPI has freed from prison.
After overruling the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s challenge to the constitutionality of California Senate Bill 1437, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Curtis Rappe vacated Tirpak’s murder conviction and ordered his immediate release from prison. Tirpak is the first person in Los Angeles County to receive the retroactive relief provided for in Senate Bill 1437.
Tirpak, 43, commended the LPI students and attorneys for pursuing his case. "I knew I would be in good hands," he said. "They're like my family. They've been there for me."
Tirpak was convicted of first-degree murder in 1996 for his alleged role as a “getaway driver” in an attempted robbery that tragically ended with the death of David Falconer. “Since the time of his arrest, Michael has maintained that he had nothing to do with the crime. He didn’t plan it, he didn’t have knowledge it was going to take place, and he didn’t know the guys he was with that night were armed,” said LPI Staff Attorney Seth Hancock ’17. “In fact, evidence presented at trial showed that Mr. Tirpak was using a payphone down the street at the time the attempted robbery took place.”
“We are delighted that Michael’s conviction has been vacated and he can now come home to be with his family,” said Paula Mitchell, ’02 LPI’s legal director. “He was convicted under California’s felony murder rule, which until recently permitted the state to sentence individuals to life without parole, even in murder cases where that person played no actual role in the crime. He was only 18 years old when he was sentenced to die in prison for a crime he had nothing to do with.”
“We began investigating Mr. Tirpak’s case in 2015, looking for credible new evidence that would affirmatively prove his innocence. But while LPI investigated the case, several laws went into effect that helped bring Michael home sooner, without requiring prolonged litigation as to his innocence,” LPI Program Director Adam Grant ’10 explained.
Elaborating, Grant said: “First, the California Supreme Court decided People v. Banks, and that permitted Mr. Tirpak to be resentenced to a parole eligible sentence of 25 years to life, since there was no evidence he was a major participant in the crime. And then the legislature enacted a new law that took effect on Jan. 1, 2019, that permitted Mr. Tirpak to have his murder conviction vacated entirely, given the lack of evidence that he played a role in the murder.”
Tirpak maintains his innocence of any involvement in the crimes for which he was convicted. Tirpak is grateful for the passage of SB 1437, which ended a decades-long legal rule that justified some of the harshest treatment to even the most minor offenders.
For Tirpak, freedom comes with vindication. "I just knew this conviction wasn't right," he said. "I knew I wouldn't die in prison."