Sacramentan wrongfully jailed for molestation charges returns home
THE SANTA CLARA
November 12, 2015
A wrongfully convicted man who served nearly 15 years of his life in a cold, concrete California prison cell is now walking the streets a free man — all because of work done by Santa Clara’s own lawyers and law students.
The Northern California Innocence Project, a pro bono legal clinical program based at Santa Clara’s School of Law, successfully led to the exoneration of Sacramento resident Larry Pohlschneider last month.
He was wrongfully convicted of three counts of sexual molestation of children under the age of 14 in 2001, which landed him a 24 year prison sentence.
About twenty Santa Clara law students have worked on his case since the NCIP took it on in 2006.
Pohlschneider was accused of molesting three children, one of which is his daughter, who was 11 at the time, that he fathered with his partner, Ceandy Curry.
The other two are Curry’s children fathered by her ex-husband, Albert Harris, a 10-year-old girl and an eight-year-old boy at the time.
The investigation was prompted when Curry discovered sexually explicit photos of the younger children on a roll of camera film.
When she asked the children about it, they said that Harris had been molesting them before their parents were divorced and before Harris had moved away.
Harris was arrested, admitted to raping the children, pled guilty and was sentenced to 24 years in prison.
The investigation took an unfortunate turn when a physician’s assistant found contradicting evidence.
As part of the investigation, the children were examined by a physician’s assistant, who reported that the eight-year-old boy had been molested more recently than June 2000, which was when Harris moved out of state.
This information suggested that someone else had molested the boy again, leading investigators to search for a second perpetrator.
The children were subsequently interrogated and pressured to name a second person as an accomplice in the molestations, leading them to say that Pohlschneider had also molested them.
However, all three children quickly recanted their accusations against Pohlschneider in later interviews.
They also testified at his January 2001 trial that Harris was the only person who had molested them and admitted that they had lied to police about Pohlschneider’s involvement after exhaustive interrogation.
At the trial, a doctor and a physician’s assistant who had examined them testified that the children had been molested by someone after Harris had moved away.
An expert witness testified as well that it is common for children to change their stories after being molested, further implicating Pohlschneider.
After being convicted of all three counts of molestation, a judge vacated one of the convictions at his sentencing for insufficient evidence, but he still received over two decades in prison.
Desperate for help with his case, Pohlschneider read a flyer in the Corcoran State Prison’s library that advertised the Innocence Project. He reached out to the organization two years after his conviction, and they began working on his case in 2006.
“Although we could not be sure he was innocent until we had spoken to the three children and had experts evaluate the medical evidence, there was something extremely compelling about this case because the children had retracted their pre-trial accusations and all testified at the trial that he was innocent,” said Maitreya Badami, an assistant legal director of NCIP.
Jill Kent handled the case until Badami took over in 2010. A volunteer attorney, retired civil lawyer Thom Seaton, also contributed.
The hardest part about the process was “the fact that the children already testified that he was innocent but the jury rejected their testimony due to unreliable medical and ‘psychological syndrome’ evidence,” Badami said. Because of this, the children’s continued assertions of his innocence could not be considered new evidence, reducing his chances of being freed.
After spending years building up a case, the NCIP filed a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus seeking to vacate his conviction in April 2015.
The District Attorney agreed to review the petition, which included testimonies from experts and doctors claiming that the original physician’s assistant and doctor who examined the children brought incorrect findings and medical evidence to the trial.
It also featured a statement from an expert psychologist who found that the interrogations of the children by police were improper, rendering their statements unreliable. The psychologist also testified that the information the expert had provided in the trial claiming that the molested youth changed their stories was unfounded.
The petition asserted that Pohlschneider did not receive a fair trial because his defense attorney failed to bring in any experts to counter the prosecution’s testimonies.
On Oct. 7, the District Attorney’s office agreed to vacate his convictions and drop his charges due to ineffective assistance of his trial counsel.
“The District Attorney agreed that Mr. Pohlschneider received a fundamentally unfair trial, because his appointed attorney did not do the necessary investigation and consultation with experts that might have shown the jury that the evidence against him was not reliable and that the children’s testimony that he was innocent was true,” Badami said.
Larry Pohlschneider is now a free man and was released from prison in mid-October.
He is living with his parents and seeking to rebuild his life, with help from his children and stepchildren, who are celebrating with him Badami said.
A hearing will take place on Nov. 12 to determine if he is “factually innocent.”
If he is found innocent, he will receive a state compensation of $140 for every day he was wrongfully incarcerated, adding up to over $750,000.
Contact Krista Clawson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.