Settlement talks are on between a man who spent 26 years of his life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit and representatives of some of the entities who put him there.
In late December attorneys for Joel Alcox met with attorneys for Santa Barbara County in Santa Barbara for a settlement discussion in Mr. Alcox’s four-claim complaint for damages stemming from his long stint in state prison over the 1986 killing of Lompoc Motel owner Thakorbhai Patel.
The 54-year-old sued in federal court claiming deprivation of liberty, malicious prosecution, conspiracy and violation of his civil rights.
Mr. Alcox’s attorneys argue that law enforcement engaged in several instances of unlawful conduct, including telling a 12-year-old girl that Mr. Alcox was the person she should identify as making admissions about the murder, when in fact the police knew he had a valid alibi and was nowhere near the crime scene.
Despite confessions by others, a coerced confession to the killing helped put Mr. Alcox away.
But the Alcox team contends in court papers, “Every police officer in the nation, other than those that are ‘plainly incompetent,’ knew that suggesting a false identification to a witness or prosecuting a person who had a valid alibi, and was therefore innocent, was against the law. By 1986, these were no longer controversial areas of constitutional law that were still being developed in the courts. It was a matter of general understanding among law enforcement officers that suggesting the identity of a suspect to a witness and prosecuting a defendant based on false evidence were unlawful courses of action.”
Three pieces of evidence, the Alcox attorneys contend, led to his conviction: the coerced confession; the 12-year-old’s identification of Joel Alcox, which was suggested to her by law enforcement; and testimony about a jail conversation, offered in the presence of Harry Heidt, a Lompoc police officer, and Kenneth Ast, an investigator with the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, that was contradicted by taped conversations that were not turned over by the officer and investigator.
“All of the other evidence indicated that Mr. Alcox was nowhere near the scene of the shooting and that (victim’s friend Sanjay Patel), who also confessed and who was identified by the victim, was the perpetrator. The defendants, through their counsel, persist in arguing about the weight of the evidence and then fragment it to the point that the forest cannot be seen for the trees.”
While court papers obtained by the News-Press indicate no settlement was reached, “counsel agree that there is a likelihood of further settlement discussions.”
Mr. Alcox is represented by former Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Frank Ochoa, Stephen Dunkle and Juliana Drous.
Handling the case for the county and Mr. Ast is Mary Pat Barry, senior deputy county counsel. Jonathan Miller is attorney for the city of Lompoc.