Bruce Lisker and his new Mercedes. Photos from January 19, 2016 by Iris Schneider.
For Bruce Lisker, life may indeed begin at 50. Today the Los Angeles City Council approved a settlement of $7.6 million in Lisker's civil suit filed against the city of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Police Department for his wrongful 26-year incarceration. Lisker claims that he was framed and convicted for his mother's murder in 1983. At the age of 17, he was sent to prison for a sentence that would last 26 years, until the case was reopened and the conviction ultimately overturned in 2009.
When the settlement was announced Tuesday, Lisker said: "On the one hand, it's a very happy day. It's a vindication and an acknowledgement by the City of Los Angeles at its highest levels that what I have said all along is true, that I am innocent and yet at 17 was framed by the LAPD for the murder of my mother.
"On a personal level, the toll this ordeal has taken on me and my family is incalculable. The money is nowhere near enough. How can one place a monetary figure on a lifetime of stolen freedom, of crushed aspirations and a shattered reputation, on my mother's tragic murder going unsolved and neglected for 33 years and counting? There are no words, just as there is no amount that can adequately compensate me for what's happened."
Nevertheless, he has chosen to forgive so he can move on and not be consumed by bitterness.
"I am pleased the City Council has acted to acknowledge what happened to my family and me so long ago at the hands of the LAPD. They didn't have to do so, but they did. And for that I am grateful."
Lisker looks forward to finally moving on with his life. He has been unable to find full-time employment and has depended on his wife, Kara Noble, for financial support. Even though half of the settlement will go to pay the lawyers and the private investigator who helped win his freedom, the Liskers will be able to pay off the credit cards that have helped sustain them. To rebuild their credit rating, he has mapped out a financial plan with carefully calculated spreadsheets, and the help of financial planners, so their expenses will be covered and they can create some kind of financial security for the first time in their lives together.
"I've set aside money to repay Kara," Lisker said. "She has been so gracious over these past 6 years, paying for everything. It's only fair to repay her....And I can finally begin to pay my therapist who has been seeing me for free. I will be very proud to walk in and pay her. It would feel good to be all grown-up.
"I am grateful for my health and happiness, for my wonderful and loving marriage, and for the multitude of amazing family and friends who've known and believed in me all through my nightmare odyssey."
Despite his years of awaiting the settlement of his lawsuit, Lisker is among the lucky ones, an exoneree who had a strong support network of friends and family, and a woman who loved him and could provide some financial and emotional support. Often those released from wrongful incarceration face huge hurdles rebuilding their lives with less help than that provided parolees: no housing, no training, no gate money, and years behind in technology.
"Most of all I am grateful to have had the loving, even if sometimes troubled years I had with my mom and dad," Lisker said. "Both were stolen from me on March 10, 1983. My mom at Mike Ryan's hand, and my dad, 12 years later, by the stress brought on by my being framed. They loved me into who I am today, yet left me far too soon." Ryan, a druggie former roommate who killed himself in 1996, is blamed by Lisker for the murder.
Lisker's dream book.
While he was in prison, Lisker created a "dream book" which he still has. It is filled with pictures of the things he wanted in his life that eluded him while incarcerated. A look through the book takes you on an emotional journey. Of course, there are photos of beautiful women and Caribbean islands. But there are pages of homes, a bed, a bedroom, of clothing and one page of coupons from a drugstore flyer: Nyquil, Theraflu, Robitussin, the things you couldn't get in prison when you were sick, simple things that would help you feel better, or things like the gum he loves but wasn't allowed to chew. And there on another page is the car he's dreamed about for 15 years, a Mercedes SL 550.
He said he would sit in the dayroom in prison when it was quiet and look through his dream book, hoping that by putting those pictures in the book, someday they would be his.
When he heard recently that his settlement was about to be approved, he went out and bought his dream car, the only splurge he has allowed himself. He knows how lottery winners feel and how they fail and he will not make those mistakes. Every expense is accounted for and he has the spreadsheets to prove it.
But every morning when he can't sleep any longer, he gets up around 5 a.m. and goes down to his garage, gets in his dream car and drives around the neighborhood. "You have everything in your dream book," says Kara. She should know because her picture is in there too, from the days when they were penpals, nothing more. "Everything to make your dreams come true."
Lisker posing today for Los Angeles Times photographer Robert Gauthier.
Lisker and his cat Bindi.
Post edited after publication.