Denver, Colo. – Lorenzo Montoya was released from prison Monday after reaching a plea deal days before a scheduled hearing that would have revealed significant Constitutional flaws in his conviction and new evidence casting serious doubt on his guilt. In January 2000, then fourteen-year-old Montoya was one of three Denver teens arrested and charged for alleged involvement in the brutal murder of a north Denver schoolteacher. Mr. Montoya, later convicted of felony murder and other charges, was sentenced to mandatory life without parole.
Mr. Montoya, now represented by lawyers from the Colorado non-profit Center for Juvenile Justice, Alternate Defense Counsel, and a team of pro bono lawyers and paralegals from the law firm Cooley LLP, filed a petition in June 2013 in Denver District Court challenging his convictions. The challenge was based on egregious Constitutional violations, including ineffective assistance of counsel and new evidence, including DNA.
Montoya’s post-conviction counsel, Lisa A. Polansky, Elizabeth Espinosa Krupa, and Peter J. Sauer, also succeeded in obtaining new DNA testing that produced powerful evidence of Mr. Montoya’s innocence. Additional new evidence included Montoya’s co-defendant, Nick Martinez, telling defense investigator, Gina Brovege, that Mr. Montoya had nothing to do with the brutal crime. In lieu of a hearing on Mr. Montoya’s claims or a new trial, the Denver District Attorney offered to dismiss all of the charges against Mr. Montoya and release him immediately in exchange for a guilty plea to accessory after the fact. The factual basis for this plea is that Mr. Montoya rode in a car stolen from the victim and did not reveal what he heard about the murder. After 14 years behind bars, including many in solitary confinement, Mr. Montoya pled guilty and was given a time-served sentence.
At Monday’s hearing presiding Denver District Court Judge Edward D. Bronfin expressed his “appreciation and admiration for … the District Attorney’s Office, for the work that Ms. Polansky, Ms. Krupa, Mr. Sauer, and all you have done, the Center for Juvenile Justice, and recognizing that in an imperfect world where things don’t always work right, it takes not only smart people but people who know right from wrong….”-###-
Additional background: Blume, John H. and Helm, Rebecca K., “The Unexonerated: Factually Innocent Defendants Who Plead Guilty”(2014). Cornell Law Faculty Working Papers. Paper 113. http://scholarship.law.cornell.edu/clsops_papers/113