Judge Frees “Innocent” L.A.-Area Woman after 17 Years in Prison for Murder

Monday, October 13, 2014
Susan Mellen (photo: Brad Graverson, Torrance Daily Breeze)

Upon review, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mark Arnold has decided that justice may not have been properly served when Gardena resident Susan Marie Mellen was convicted of murder 17 years ago solely on the word of a pathological liar.

So, last week, the judge proclaimed the 59-year-old mother of three “innocent” of the crime and freed her. She spent most of the last 17 years at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla.

Mellen was convicted of orchestrating the killing of her ex-boyfriend, Richard Daly, over his alleged theft of goods from her mother’s home. The jury believed the testimony of Mellen’s friend, June Patti, who said the accused had confided in her details of the crime.

The details were gruesome. Daly was beaten and asphyxiated at a home where Mellen and others lived. A woolen scarf was shoved down his throat with a hammer and his lips were glued shut. His body was set on fire in an alley and left there.

The jury took five hours to convict Mellen.

What they didn’t know was Patti, who had a lengthy arrest record, had been called an “unreliable informant” by the Torrance Police Department five years earlier after a series of tips from her proved to be false. Patti’s sister, a Torrance police officer, went a little beyond “unreliable” in describing her veracity.

She told the Los Angeles Times Patti was a pathological liar and that she had told that to the lead Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) investigator at the time of the trial. “My sister is probably the biggest liar I’ve ever met in my life and if I don’t see something happening directly that she’s involved in, then I don’t believe anything she has to say,” the sister said she told LAPD.

Those glowing character references never made it to the jury because Mellen’s attorney didn’t investigate Patti or bring up the subject at trial. The judge called that “subpar representation” in his ruling.

Patti died in 2006, but not before being linked to around 2,000 calls to authorities or cases in Washington state, where she moved. Three gang members were eventually tied to the killing. One was convicted. One who wasn’t convicted, but admits he was there, passed a polygraph test when he said Mellen was not present, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Mellen was arrested in 1997 at McDonald’s with her 9-year-old daughter looking on. The arresting detective was later identified in a habeas corpus petition as being in charge of a 1994 case involving two men who were convicted at trial and then exonerated later.

Mellen’s case was taken up by Deirdre O'Connor, head of Innocence Matters, in November 2013. She turned over her information to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Habeas Litigation Unit (HABLIT) a few months later and their investigation confirmed her findings. So they took the matter to a judge.

Mellen hugged her granddaughter for the first time Friday in the courtroom, after her release.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Torrance Judge Frees Gardena Woman Wrongly Convicted of Murder after 17 Years in Prison (by Larry Altman, Torrance Daily Breeze)

Woman Exonerated in Murder Case after 17 Years (by Linda Deutsch, Associated Press)

California Woman Freed after 17 Years, Declared Innocent of Murder (by Dan Whitcomb, Reuters)

L.A. Judge Says Woman Who Spent 17 Years Behind Bars Is Innocent (by Corina Knoll, Los Angeles Times)

Susan Mellen Is Coming Home Friday, October 10! (by Deidre O’Connor, Innocence Matters blog)

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