Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

The Man Who Returned: Trying to Build a Life After 20 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment 

Wednesday, Oct 16 2013
Comments

Page 6 of 6

Personal injury and tragedy only compounded this. Toward the end of 2011, Caldwell was rocked by the sudden death of his friend Danny Milton, his sister's partner and Caldwell's primary source of financial support.

At the start of 2012, Caldwell got a job at a recycling plant, desperate to take on some of the economic load. At the recycling plant, Caldwell's back, weakened by two decades of physical labor in prison, gave out on him. He had a bulging disc.

Caldwell moved to Sacramento with his girlfriend, Pamela Haynes, and her young daughter. The three of them moved in with his dad in Sacramento, where, after developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Caldwell found himself unable to work at all.

Caldwell's opponents remain unimpressed.

"I don't know anybody who beat a case on appeal who didn't immediately stand on the courthouse steps and say that it was a terrible miscarriage of justice and could he please have several million dollars," says the case's original prosecutor, Al Giannini, now a semi-retired attorney for the San Mateo District Attorney's Office.

Caldwell got lucky, Giannini thinks. He should walk away. Craig Martin's subsequent disbarring in 2009 had created a "problem in retrospect we couldn't get around."

Tasked with defending the city's coffers in a civil suit and the officers involved (all of whom declined to comment until litigation had been dealt with), Sean Connolly supports Cobbs. She had a bird's-eye view of the crime scene and recalled Caldwell and the shooting with "exacting detail and certainty."

Both Giannini and Connolly concede that it comes down to Cobbs versus the new witnesses. They can't both be telling the truth. The stories of the new witnesses, while displaying small discrepancies, align with Caldwell's alibis presented at trial, naming Marritte Funches as the first shooter and Henry Martin as the man with the shotgun. All the statements raise questions about whether Cobbs could have even seen the second shooter. It tells a story that matches what Caldwell tried to tell officers from the outset.

"The evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that Marritte Funches and Henry Martin committed this crime and that Maurice is innocent," says NCIP's Kaneb.

It's put a back-and-forth in play that has no immediate and satisfying resolution.

Connolly, representing the city in civil litigation, says the new testimonies are riddled by inconsistencies.

Tolliver claims that he saw two people fire the shotgun, not one, he says, and contradicts Caldwell's statement in further ways. Both Tolliver and Jones were interviewed by police officers the morning of the murder but claimed then to not see anything.

Kaneb counters that in Alemany there was a difference between cooperating with the police and helping a wrongly convicted friend.

Connolly says that Tolliver and Jones were convicted felons. Funches was in prison. "They have nothing to lose and stature to gain by helping Caldwell," he says.

Kaneb and Starr see this as the city justifying a botched investigation that had a disastrous result. "They can say those things, but it doesn't make them true," Starr says.

In June 2012, Caldwell, with his girlfriend and her child, moved into a small one-bedroom apartment in Sacramento. Caldwell was broke. He was blessed and he had love in his life, he says. But he couldn't go anywhere. He couldn't take care of his family members. His sister was grieving. His uncle who'd raised him was dying. He'd lost his youth. He had no skills.

Resolving his case won't be quick. The California Victims Compensation board, in charge of approving Caldwell's claim of $100 a day, can take years to rule. The civil suit is pending, but it will not be heard anytime soon.

Caldwell has grown frustrated. "I'm struggling, man," he says.

Every day out of prison was a gift, but Caldwell's life had been colored by the murder conviction. For some recognition of what had been done to him, he now had to go up against the same system that took 20 years of his life.

"These people took all this time out of my life. They put me in this situation by snatching me up and putting me right there," he says.

The innocence project set up speaking engagements for Caldwell, which he looked forward to and which gave his life purpose. It empowers him to create a new story of his own, one that can help others. Given a second chance, he wants to do good.

The sad irony for Caldwell is that after all the time the system spent telling him that he needed to take responsibility for his own actions, that same system hasn't acknowledged any of its own mistakes.

At the start of September, Caldwell's girlfriend, Pamela, gave birth to their son, Maurice Armon'i Dawaun Caldwell. They moved into a larger three-bedroom apartment with space for Maurice Jr., Pamela's young daughter, and Caldwell's uncle.

When it comes to his son, Caldwell says he will make sure he grows up with his father there. He knows he won't be able to tell his son to trust the system, though.

"The police cars, they got that 'Protect and Serve' on the side. They don't protect and serve," he says.

"Well, I'm alive I guess, so maybe they can say they protect. But I don't really think so."

About The Author

James Robinson

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Slideshows

  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"