2 Men Convicted in 2003 Fatal Driveby in South LA Exonerated

Rows of Prison Cells

Photo: slobo / E+ / Getty Images

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Two men who served roughly 20 years behind bars for a 2003 drive-by shooting in South Los Angeles that they did not commit were formally exonerated and released from prison, it was announced Wednesday.

Jofama Coleman and Abel Soto were 20 and 15 years old, respectively, when they were arrested and charged in connection with the May 10, 2003, shooting that killed Jose "Chino" Robles, 16. Prosecutors said at the time the killing was carried out in retaliation for an earlier confrontation that allegedly involved Robles and Coleman's teen brother.

In 2007, Soto was sentenced to 72 years to life in prison for allegedly firing the deadly shots. District Attorney George Gascón said Wednesday the conviction came "despite the fact that no one could identify the shooter at the time of the shooting."

Coleman was sentenced to 25 years to life after being convicted of driving the white van that was used in the drive-by shooting.

"The witness that identified Mr. Coleman as the driver recanted his trial testimony in 2023, saying he had never actually seen Mr. Coleman driving the van," Gascón said. "From the beginning, Mr. Coleman and Mr. Soto maintained their innocence, declaring it through every stage of the litigation."

Following a petition last year by their attorney, Ellen Eggers, the case was reviewed. In January, a judge declared Soto factually innocent of the crime. Coleman was declared factually innocent on Tuesday.

"This case is a tragedy of many proportions. our duty is not only to correct he wrongs of the past but to ensure that fairness prevails and that we learn from our past mistakes," Gascón said.

Coleman, speaking alongside Gascón at a downtown news conference, said that now he is free, he hopes to become a lawyer "to help other innocent people in prison."

"My journey has been one of unimaginable hardship, but it is also a testament to the strength of the human spirit, the power of resilience and unwavering support of those who believed in justice," he said. "I found myself incarcerated for a crime I did not commit. The weight of that injustice was a burden that I carried every day but refused to let it define me.

"Behind prison walls I faced challenges that tested my resolve, but with determination and the support of remarkable individuals and organizations, I emerged victorious."

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