After 17 years, justice for two men Murder convictions against men were false.


For 17 years, Benny Powell has been shuffled about in California prisons, serving a life sentence in the murder of a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy.

Now, aided by the investigative work of a New Jersey minister, a judge may order that Powell and another man convicted in the crime be freed, perhaps today.

In a highly unusual move, the county District Attorney's Office, which prosecuted the pair in the 1973 slaying, was expected to join in a defense motion to have the two released because of a bungled case that included the suppression of key evidence.

"We cannot let the conviction stand because these men had an unfair trial," Deputy District Attorney Peter Bozanich said recently. "We have no reason to believe they committed the crimes."

Defense attorneys for Powell, 44, and Clarence Chance, 42, go further, accusing overzealous detectives of coercing witnesses to fabricate testimony and manipulating a jailhouse informer's statements.

In papers filed with the court, attorney Sandra E. Smith called Powell's conviction "a miscarriage of justice" and blamed it on officers "whose interests were . . . their own reputations for clearing cases."

The allegations have sparked an internal investigation at the Los Angeles Police Department and have rocked an agency already reeling from the videotaped police beating of a motorist last year.

At the center of today's hearing are details that were withheld about informer Lawrence Wilson, whose testimony helped to convict Powell.

Among them are results of two polygraph tests, including one a day after Mr. Wilson implicated Powell, that concluded that Mr. Wilson was "untruthful in all relevant areas."

Mr. Wilson also allegedly implicated two other men in the murder and said, under one of two hypnosis sessions, that he knew nothing of the crime and just wanted to get out of jail for the day, to ride in a police car and to eat hamburgers, records say.

None of that information was given to Powell's attorney or the jury, although it was part of the records ordered released by the court.

Jim McCloskey, a Protestant lay minister who heads Centurion Ministries, is dedicated to helping what Mr. McCloskey refers to as "the convicted innocent."

Mr. McCloskey began poring over transcripts and interviewing witnesses and key players in the investigation at the request of Chance.

Deputy David Earl Andrews was found shot to death Dec. 12, 1973. Powell was convicted, in large part, by the testimony of Mr. Wilson, who told the jury that Powell had confessed to him, and three other witnesses.

The three others, who also had claimed that Powell confessed, since have given signed statements that they were pressured or threatened by two detectives to lie about Powell.

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