By Bandon Bailey
Article Launched: 09/28/2007 03:57:41 PM PDT
Rick Walker, the East Palo Alto man who was cleared of murder charges after serving 12 years in prison, will receive $2.75 million to settle a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit that he filed against Santa Clara County and other agencies involved in his case.
Attorneys for Walker and the county confirmed that the settlement received final approval from the county’s insurance company today.
Walker, who has worked as an auto mechanic since his release from prison in 2003, said he won’t consider the case settled until the money is deposited to his bank account. But he also said he hopes the settlement will be “like a pebble thrown in the water” that has a “ripple effect” in preventing future abuses by law enforcement authorities.
“There’s a lot more people like me that are not as fortunate as I am, that are still in prison for things they didn’t do,” Walker said. “So ultimately, if this pebble in the water makes the county change what they are doing, that’s a good thing.”
Walker added that he has no plans to quit his job, explaining that he enjoys his work and wants to set a good example for his nieces and nephews.
He has also received $421,000 from the state under a law that provides compensation to those wrongfully imprisoned.
The 51-year-old Walker was convicted in 1991 of the stabbing and suffocation death of his former girlfriend, Lisa Hopewell. He was sentenced to serve 26 years to life. But a family friend, who is a lawyer, decided to re-examine the case and dug up new evidence and witness statements that convinced a court to clear him.
After reviewing the new evidence, former District Attorney George Kennedy’s office apologized for its handling of the case, including the prosecution’s reliance on a witness who was later discredited.
County Counsel Ann Miller Ravel, however, said she felt the DA and sheriff’s department acted reasonably within the law. She said today that the settlement was “a business decision.”
Walker’s attorney called the outcome fair to his client.
“While it can’t get him back 12 years of his life that were taken away, it’s the best the system can do in terms of providing him some justice,” said Matt Davis of the San Francisco law firm Walkup Melodia.
The district attorney has since charged another man with Hopewell’s slaying. Mark Swanson pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, kidnapping and robbery in 2004, and was sentenced to 15 years and four months.
Walker had been falsely accused by Rahsson Germaine Bowers, who also arranged a lesser murder conviction for himself in connection with Hopewell’s slaying. After Walker was exonerated, prosecutors convinced a state board not to release Bowers on parole.