LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A San Fernando Valley man imprisoned for more than 13 years for a crime he denies committing was ordered released today by a federal judge while appeals are pending.
Daniel Larsen, 45, was convicted in 1999 of carrying a concealed knife and was sent to prison as a three-striker. But officials with the California Innocence Project found witnesses who said they saw a different man throwing away the knife in question.
Following the ruling by U.S. Magistrate Suzanne H. Segal, Larsen was processed out of custody and released to the wife he met and married last year while he was behind bars in the state prison in Lancaster serving a 27 years-to-life sentence.
Moments after ordering Larsen released "forthwith ... subject to supervision," the judge reminded the onetime member of the white supremacist Nazi Low Riders gang that "you're being given a rare opportunity -- and I hope you use this opportunity well."
Larsen, sunburnt and sporting a white bushy moustache, rushed away from the downtown courthouse without commenting.
"He's not the kid he was when he went to prison," said his attorney, Jan Stiglitz, co-director of the Innocence Project. "He's a serious, mature guy now."
Larsen was convicted in 1999 of carrying a concealed knife -- a third strike for the convicted burglar. Insisting he was innocent, the Innocence Project took up his case and found witnesses -- including a former police chief -- who said they saw another man throw away the knife.
In 2010, a federal judge overturned the conviction and said Larsen's constitutional rights had been violated because his original attorney was incompetent. Despite that ruling, Larsen still wasn't released.
California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris appealed the federal judge's decision based on the technicality that Larsen's current lawyers missed a deadline for filing papers.
The Innocence Project filed an appeal under habeas corpus that eventually reached the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which found Larsen to be "actually innocent,' a legal term that allows him to be released from prison while his case works its way through the courts.
The appeals court ordered the lower court to set conditions for Larsen's release.
"Does innocence trump procedural delay" is how Stiglitz summed up the legal question before the circuit court.
In setting conditions for Larsen's release, Segal ordered an appearance bond of $52,500, which was guaranteed by Larsen's wife, Christina, and two other women.
The magistrate judge also ordered Larsen to actively seek employment and have no contact with members of the Nazi Low Riders.
Larsen entered the courtroom an hour earlier in handcuffs and an orange state prison jumpsuit, surrounded by deputies, and walked out in an open-necked shirt and slacks.
Stiglitz said he would try and meet with county prosecutors as early as next week to attempt to resolve the case.
But, the attorney said, the answer to when Larsen might know if he is to remain free is up in the air.
"It could be months, it could be a year," Stiglitz said.