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Wrongfully Convicted Compton Man Released After 20 Years Behind Bars

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For the first time in 20 years, Marco Contreras is breathing fresh air outside of the Calipatria State Prison. Contreras was convicted in 1997 of attempted murder and attempted robbery at a Compton gas station the previous year, and sentenced to life in prison off an eyewitness's identification of Contreras as the assailant.

Then, in the spring of 2012, Ricardo Perez, a recently graduated student from the Loyola Law School, responded to a plea from Contreras's family: free our innocent relative.

Last week, after five years of work from Perez and the Loyola Project For The Innocent, Superior Court Judge William Ryan officially recognized Contreras's "factual innocence" and released him.

“We are thrilled that our client has been found factually innocent and that the court is planning to order his immediate release,” Laurie Levenson, founder of the LPI, said.

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According to Loyola, Contreras was at home sleeping during the time of the 1996 incident, meaning the eyewitness's identification was wrong.

“Erroneous eyewitness identifications account for about 75 percent of all wrongful convictions in the U.S.,” Paula Mitchell, legal director for the LPI, added.

“This is a huge problem,” Adam Grant, an attorney for Contreras, and LPI's Program Director, said of eyewitness testimony, reports the Los Angeles Times. “It’s a thorny problem because the public considers it reliable.”

Contreras is LPI's second release this year. Earlier in March, the Project secured Andrew Leander Wilson's release after being wrongfully accused of a 1984 stabbing, and spending 32 years behind bars.

“I’d like to thank you for allowing me to be here,” Contreras told the courtroom on Tuesday at his release hearing. “Also the D.A. — I’d like to say thank you to everybody.”

“This is a new chapter,” Judge Ryan then told Contreras, warning him that world has changed a lot in the last 20 years. “Good luck to you, sir.”