Gardena woman freed after 17 years in prison

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Saying that she never lost hope, a Gardena woman stepped out of a Torrance courtroom Oct. 10 to freedom after spending 17 years in prison for a murder she did not commit.

Susan Mellen, 59, was released to family and friends at the recommendation of prosecutors last week. She was greeted by loved ones, including two children who were ages 7 and 9 when she was incarcerated.

Mellen kept her faith through a strong religious belief, according to Deirdre O’Connor, executive director of Innocence Matters, a Torrance organization that helped free the woman.

Saying that she never lost hope, a Gardena woman stepped out of a Torrance courtroom Oct. 10 to freedom after spending 17 years in prison for a murder she did not commit.

Susan Mellen, 59, was released to family and friends at the recommendation of prosecutors last week. She was greeted by loved ones, including two children who were ages 7 and 9 when she was incarcerated.

Mellen kept her faith through a strong religious belief, according to Deirdre O’Connor, executive director of Innocence Matters, a Torrance organization that helped free the woman.

On May 15, 1998, Mellen was convicted by a Torrance court jury of killing Richard James Daly. His body was found burning in an alley July 21, 1997 in San Pedro. Daly, 30, was found bound with electrical wire, gagged and beaten with a hammer.

The murder was traced to a lot of two houses in Lawndale, where Mellen resided. As reported in the Daily Breeze, the residence was also occupied by methamphetamine users.

Mellen and two others were identified as suspects.

A witness, June Patti, testified that Mellen confided details to her on the specifics of Daly’s death.

Patti said that Mellen and Daly were caught in a sexual act by Mellen’s boyfriend. The boyfriend attacked Daly, and Mellen assisted in the crime, according to Patti. A third person, was paid by the boyfriend to aid in Daly’s murder.

Mellen was accused of stuffing a woolen scarf into Daly’s mouth. Super glue was used on the victim’s mouth and lips. He died of asphyxiation before the burning, authorities said.

The boyfriend was not prosecuted due to insufficient evidence. The neighbor, gang member Chad “Ghost” Landrum, 24, who was paid to assist in the killing was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Another gang member in the case was released.

Mellen, who maintained her innocence and said she was not even home at the time of the murder, was convicted on the strength of Patti’s testimony.

Patti was said to be a pathological liar, later confirmed by her sister, a Torrance police officer, to a Los Angeles police Detective Marcella Winn, O’Connor said.

Mellen’s attorney, a 70-year-old divorce lawyer, did not properly handle his client’s case, O’Connor said.

He was “outlawyered” by the prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Valerie Rose, O’Connor was quoted as saying in the Breeze article.

Shirley Knocke, who befriended Mellen in prison, said she was an inmate on the same Sheriff’s Department bus as Mellen and Landrum. Knocke said she overhead a conversation between the two en route to Torrance court.

Landrum was heard telling Mellen not to worry because she had nothing to do with the crime, and that she would walk.

Knocke said she passed that information to Mellen’s attorney, but received no response.

Mellen’s attempts to seek help in overturning her conviction went nowhere. Knocke promised Mellen that she would not stop in getting her help.

A year ago, Innocence Matters, a Torrance nonprofit group that works to overturn wrongful convictions, began an investigation. O’Connor said Knocke was instrumental in gaining Mellen’s freedom.

The D.A.’s Office acknowledged that Patti made up the testimony. Patti has since died. The case was based on “fabricated testimony,” authorities said.

Gardena woman freed after 17 years in prison