Part 6 of an occasional series
A week ago, the biggest problem Bruce Lisker had was finding a couch. I had accompanied him and his girlfriend Kara to Abell's Auctions, a vast warehouse in Commerce that holds a weekly auction of everything from child's rockers ("$5. Do I hear $5?") to huge woven rugs ($15), breakfronts ("No interest? Trash it!") and elegant porcelain pieces from Nancy, France. When Bruce and Kara returned from Maui, where he marked the one year anniversary of his release from Mule Creek Prison, the couple who had loaned them several rooms of furniture decided they needed it all back immediately
That left Bruce and Kara sleeping and eating on the floor of their sunny Marina Del Rey apartment. They got a new bed from IKEA and then Kara, familiar with Abells from years of furnishing homes and appreciating a good deal, headed to the auction house for one of their weekly auctions. On their second visit, it worked. After purchasing a red suede couch for $40 and some other smaller items to sit on and hang on the walls, Kara was excited. "Baby, we have a home! We have a proper home!" she exclaimed gleefully when the gavel fell and the couch was theirs.
They next day they had what they hoped would be their last meal on the floor as they waited for the couch and dining room table to be delivered. Bruce started back at Santa Monica Community College, taking one class on campus--Speech and Argumentation--and a couple of classes online. He meets regularly with a therapist now, helping him with depression and to make sense of his life's journey. She is seeing him pro bono, a huge help since he still has not been able to find a job, despite filling out 50 job applications all over the city. But, all in all, for Bruce life was good.
Then he got a surprise phone call from his lawyers. And they had bad news. On Wednesday, the Attorney General's office filed a motion asking U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Philips to reverse her decision that overturned Lisker's murder conviction. The judge was asked to send Lisker back to prison to continue serving a 16-year-to-life sentence for the murder of his mother, a crime he maintains he did not commit.
Before the phone call, Lisker's next court date was not until March, 2011 when his civil case against the city of Los Angeles is due to begin.
Lisker's lawyer, Bill Genego, explained the situation. Several years after Bruce was incarcerated, a new law was passed. It stated that you could not file a writ of habeas corpus more than one year after your conviction had become final. Because the law did not even exist until several years after he was convicted, Bruce missed that deadline. Now the attorney general has filed a motion seeking to overturn the ruling that freed him and send him back to prison, not because he is guilty, but rather because he missed the deadline by which he was supposed to file his appeal.
Genego, who is representing Lisker in his civil suit against the city, and who has been working on winning Bruce's freedom since 2005, had to make the phone call to tell his client the news. "It was devastating." Genego said. "This is a perversion of the law. They are saying that someone who is innocent should sit in jail because they missed the filing deadline. That is not law as justice. It is law as a game," he said.
The Attorney General could have appealed the decision to release Bruce last year when he was released, but decided not to pursue the case. The Los Angeles County DA decided not to re-prosecute, citing lack of evidence, and eventually Lisker was exonerated. "Now they are saying, 'We decided not to appeal, but we wish we had,'" Genego said.
But he is optimistic. They will appear before Judge Philips, who ultimately overturned Lisker's conviction, finding that he had been convicted on false evidence and that his original attorney did not adequately represent him. She ruled that innocence overcomes untimeliness and you can overcome an untimely petition and have your case heard nonetheless to prove your innocence.
In a note to his supporters after he heard the news from his lawyers, Lisker wrote: "I just need to stay focused on the tasks ahead: school, love, life and staying in a spiritually and emotionally healthy place."
In talking with Bruce this week about his year anniversary, he said that on a trip up to Northern California, he fulfilled something he had dreamed about doing for many years. "I got to drive by Mule Creek Prison," he said, the prison he walked out of last year, after fighting tirelessly for his exoneration.
Despite this latest setback, Lisker's letter attested that he still has faith: "Justice will win the day," he said.
Photographer Iris Schneider is following Bruce Lisker as he returns to society. He was released from prison in August 2009 after 26 years.