By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
As it had in 1990, the name Marritte Funches kept coming up. People thought he had died.
"Something was wrong," Myers says.
Myers teamed up with Paul Myslin, who had opened up a small innocence project in the San Francisco Public Defender's office and come across Caldwell's case. "The combination of Bev's enthusiasm and how much this all hung on a single eyewitness really stood out," he recalls.
In 2005, the case turned. Myers found Funches. He was alive. He had fled to Reno shortly after the shooting in June 1990 and been sentenced to life without parole for killing a cab driver in March 1991.
Myers and Myslin drove to see Funches. After their visit, Funches wrote to Myers, enclosing a diagram of the crime scene and a written confession.
If Cobbs had looked out the window, she would've recognized him, Funches said. The two knew each other. The second shooter wasn't Caldwell. He wouldn't say who it was, fearing reprisals against his daughter. The man with the shotgun was tucked around the corner of the block of condos Cobbs lived in, out of sight from her window and definitely not next to him as she had claimed.
Separated by 15 years, prison walls, and state lines, Funches had outlined a version of events that closely matched Caldwell's.
Myslin's innocence project closed in 2006. But Caldwell's case was transferred to the Northern California Innocence Project at the Santa Clara University School of Law.
NCIP was started in 2001 as a nonprofit legal clinic affiliated with the university. Caldwell's case was one of the first letters they received, says Linda Starr, NCIP co-founder with Kathleen Ridolfi.
The Acosta murder seemed badly investigated to NCIP, with only one eyewitness, a recipe that plays a part in roughly 75 percent of wrongful convictions — though a case can be badly investigated, Starr says, and still get the right guy. But in this case, there was just nothing to go on.
When Starr saw that Funches had been found alive and had confessed, Caldwell's case had new impetus. She assigned it to Paige Kaneb, a young lawyer with the project who was hired by NCIP straight out of law school.
In June 2008, Funches supplied NCIP with a signed affidavit confessing to the crime. When Kaneb and Starr later visited Funches in Ely, he reiterated what he'd told Myers, the investigator hired by Caldwell's family.
Kaneb, with Myers, hit the ground in Alemany again, looking for eyewitnesses. It was a slow process: It had been 18 years. People had scattered.
Early in 2009, they found Marcus Mendez. Mendez was 14 at the time of the shooting and lived in a house across the courtyard from the shooting. He knew Caldwell from the neighborhood. After the shooting had stopped, he said he looked out his back door and saw Caldwell running toward the scene empty-handed.
Kaneb tracked down Craig Martin, Caldwell's lawyer. He admitted to grievous failings as a defense attorney. A few months later, he was disbarred on a separate matter.
In October, they found Maurice Tolliver, who had been interviewed by police on the morning of the shooting, but never contacted since. He said that he saw Caldwell with a girl that night. He witnessed the shooting and said he saw Funches and Martin fire the guns.
Demetrius Jones came forward and reiterated Tolliver's story. Tina McCullum, the woman Caldwell claimed to have been with when the murder happened, confirmed Caldwell's version of the story.
From Funches' confession, the NCIP had built up a compelling new version of events. All witnesses signed legal affidavits.
The Innocence Project filed a writ of habeas corpus on Caldwell's behalf in February 2009 and slowly added to it throughout the year. It argued that Caldwell's conviction should be vacated due to new evidence, false testimony, ineffective counsel, factual innocence, and procedural errors that violated Caldwell's rights.
In August 2009, the court ordered the city to show cause why his release shouldn't be granted. The San Francisco District Attorney's Office had 30 days. It responded a year later. Caldwell's mother died while he waited.
Four months after that, in December 2010, Judge Charles Haines overturned Caldwell's conviction. He did not touch on the issue of innocence in his ruling.
Judges, NCIP's Linda Starr says, are often reluctant to overturn the will of a jury.
But in the ruling judge's eyes, Caldwell's "trial was unfair and the verdict unreliable," because his lawyer, Martin, had never properly investigated Caldwell's innocence. Had the court heard from the people who had been painstakingly tracked down two decades later, a different verdict could have been reached.
Preparation for a new trial moved quickly in 2011 on both sides. But over 20 years, the city's story had evaporated. Old exhibits had been destroyed. Mary Cobbs had died in 1998.
In 2011, as in 1991, without Cobbs, there was no case. The city wanted an actress to read her testimony in court. On March 25, 2011, this was deemed inadmissible. Three days later, Caldwell was free.
On Caldwell's first night out, he returned to his sister's home in Antioch. He was determined to never return to Alemany. His half-brother Franceil had been murdered there in 2004. He asked his sister's partner, longtime San Francisco bus driver Danny Milton, to teach him how to live in the outside world. Milton agreed to support Caldwell.
Lady Justice wears a blindfold which is suppose to represents blind justice, handed-out without fear or favor regardless of race, creed or class. Are we still living in caves, how can something like this keep happening?
Jails, prisons, penitentiaries are all from the mind of the devil. They give nothing that is good. They destroy lives. Jesus communicated with the spirits in prison when he laid his life down for us. King James Version of 1 Peter 3:19 by:also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; God did not create jails to give guilt. Jesus who is the Father seeks to free people that are in prison.
It's seems as if we are.....it's happening all over....I just witnessed/experIenced the exact same ordeal with my son's father. I pray it doesn't take 20 years to prove his innocence....