DNA overturns CA conviction which relied on victim influenced by law enforcement

CIP-photo copy

Above is a picture of Uriah Courtney walking out of prison into the arms of his parents.

The California Innocence Project at Cal Western Law School is holding a press conference today on the outcome of their efforts to exonerate this man. The following is the press release from last night which is written by Justin Brooks, the CIP co-director.

Uriah Courtney FREED!

Dear CIP Supporters,

I am extremely pleased to announce that this morning on motion by the San Diego District Attorney’s Office, San Diego Superior Court Judge Walsh dismissed kidnapping and sexual assault charges against Uriah Courtney ending an eight year nightmare for him and his family.

On November 24, 2004, a man grabbed a young woman off the street in Lemon Grove, threw her down in some bushes near a stoplight, and sexually assaulted her. The woman managed to escape. Shortly before the attack, she saw a man staring at her from an old, light-colored truck. The victim and one eyewitness were unable to provide enough information to create a composite sketch of the suspect, however, a truck matching the description was reported to the police. The truck was owned by the stepfather of a local man named Uriah Courtney, a North Park resident who closely matched the physical description of the suspect. Despite her stated uncertainty, the victim testified at trial that she was sure of her identification of both the truck and of Courtney. A jury rendered a guilty verdict and the court sentenced Courtney to life in prison for kidnapping and sexual assault.

At the time of Courtney’s conviction, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department performed DNA testing but did not obtain any meaningful results. In 2010, when newer and more discriminating testing was available than was available at the time of trial, the California Innocence Project determined further DNA testing would be appropriate and opened an investigation of the case.

With the cooperation of the District Attorney’s Office, the victim’s clothing was re-submitted for DNA testing and a male profile was obtained. The profile was run through the Combined DNA Index System-a national databank containing convicted offender profiles-and matched a white male who bore a striking physical resemblance to Courtney and lived three miles from the crime scene. The real offender was identified and Uriah Courtney was exonerated.

As always it takes a village to obtain an exoneration. I would like to thank CIP staff attorney Alissa Bjerkhoel who served as lead counsel on the case, as well as CIP attorneys Alex Simpson, Raquel Cohen, and Sarah Bear. I would also like to thank former CIP students Alex McDonald, Paul Spencer, Sonia Salazar, and Amber Moody. As always, I thank my partner in crime Jan Stiglitz and our program manager Kim Hernandez.


Justin Brooks


About csidds

Dr. Michael Bowers is a long time forensic consultant in the US and international court systems.
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