Slow-moving justice too late for Omer Gallion

Serving a life sentence for strangling his mother-in-law in 1972, Gallion maintained that he was not at the North Hollywood murder scene. But his lawyer never challenged the testimony of his daughter, who claimed that her father had confessed to the crime. That testimony formed the most direct evidence used to convict him in 1995. Just one problem: The daughter had a history of mental illness, including schizophrenia, that Gallion's lawyer never raised. In 2004, a magistrate judge who reviewed Gallion’s petition to overturn the conviction recommended that he be released or retried. And then - nothing. From Daily Journal reporter Gabe Friedman:

The federal judge in charge of the case, U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson, refused to act on the recommendation for more than five years. In 2010, Gallion’s lawyer informed Anderson his client had died in prison at age 80. That’s when the judge acted: he swiftly dismissed the case. Inaction has become a pattern for Anderson. At least two other inmates have waited more than five and eight years respectively for Anderson’s ruling on magistrate judge reports recommending they be released.

The cases point up how a single federal judge has the power to stall an inmate’s last chance to overturn his conviction. Although the U.S. Constitution guarantees all defendants a fair trial and competent lawyer, the mechanism to enforce those rights — a habeas petition — can be painstakingly slow because judges are not obligated to act within any time frame, even when life and liberty hang in the balance. Multiple legal experts who reviewed the cases said they knew of no other judge who had postponed such rulings for so long.

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