Santa Barbara resident awarded $1.3 million
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Joel Alcox, a Santa Barbara resident, was awarded $1.3 million in compensation by the city of Lompoc and Santa Barbara County, after being wrongfully convicted of murder and serving 26 years in prison.
The National Registry of Exonerations reported that in 1986, Thakorbhai Patel, the owner of a Lompoc Motel, was murdered by two men who had also robbed the motel’s cash register.
The police received an anonymous tip that Richard Lothery and John Wilcox were responsible for the murder. Joel Alcox, who had recently been arrested for public drunkenness, was taken into the police station for an interview, based off his name sounding similar to that of “John Wilcox” given by the anonymous tip, The National Registry of Exonerations reported.
Alcox gave a taped confession, voluntarily, but while under the influence of LSD and after drinking the night before.
After his seven hour interrogation, Alcox falsely confessed to have been involved with Richard Lothery in the murder. While the tactics of the investigators were dishonest, they were legal under California law The Santa Barbara Independent states.
Alcox’s first trial ended in a mistrial because of improper comments by the prosecution.
During the second trial, Carolina Gonzales, a 15-year-old from Lompoc, said she heard Alcox talking to Lothery about the shooting in an alley.
Carol Seilhamer, a jailer at Lompoc City Jail, said she overheard Alcox and Lothery speaking to each other to create an alibi. Alcox’s defense lawyer did not cross-examine Seilhamer or contest the validity of the confession. Alcox’s lawyer also did not interview any of his alibi witnesses.
In 1987, Alcox was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison plus one year. Alcox appealed the decision but the California Court of Appeals upheld the convictions and the California Supreme Court declined to review it.
The National Registry of Exonerations said that in 2004, Supreme Court Judge Arthur Garcia held a hearing on the petition, where Lothery testified that he and Sanjay were the only two involved in the crime.
Alcox, represented by attorney Juliana Dorus, who specializes in overturning wrongful convictions reviewed Alcox’s trial, and found his Defense, Ken Biely, to be incompetent.
The Santa Barbara Independent reports that Biely did not interview Alcox’s friends who would have confirmed his alibi. Dorus found Alcox’s bandmates, all of whom said that Alcox was with them the night of the shooting. Biely also failed to cross-examine Caroline Gonzalez.
In addition to Alcox’s false confession, and Gonzalez’s false testimony, Biely did not cross-examine Lompoc
According to The National Registry of Exonerations, in 2005, Judge Garcia granted the writ of habeas corpus and vacated Alcox’s convictions.
In 2012, Alcox was given parole. In 2016, based on U.S. District Judge James Selna, the prosecution dismissed the charges of Alcox’s convictions.
In 2017, Alcox filed a federal civil rights lawsuit where he was awarded $1.3 million in compensation by the city of Lompoc and Santa Barbara County, according to The National Registry of Exonerations.