Old Debt Comes Due
In January of 1994, I was a 34-year old Los Angeles Deputy D.A. After two hung juries, I finally convinced a third one to convict a veteran L.A.P.D. officer of using new technology (at the time, basically an LAPD laptop) to set up the robbery of a check cashing store from his squad car.
From day one, in that case, I knew the People of Los Angeles and I owed a debt to our star, in-custody witness, Greg Sims, a young South Central L.A. college dropout with lots of prison time and not much opportunity to look forward to after serving it. He took risks to testify against the officer, without any hope of “consideration,” i.e., a reduction in his sentence.
At the end of the case, I went on with my life. Greg Sims, on the other hand, went back to prison. Twenty-three years later that debt came due, when Dean Emeritus Lawrence Hellman of the Oklahoma City University School of Law, working pro bono, tracked me down in Pittsburgh to help petition California Governor Jerry Brown for Greg’s pardon. Greg had endured three grueling cross-examinations in the case to do justice and bring home that conviction of the officer who committed a felony.
Pardon applications are always a long shot, but Greg deserved the chance at one. And the Governor’s Office agreed.
It wouldn’t have, without the support of retired Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer, for whom Greg had briefly played in college, and Cleveland County, Oklahoma’s former Sheriff Joe Lester.
It turns out that Greg had married his childhood friend Rene while he was still in prison; after it, he worked hard to build a life for her and their family in California. He found employment, raised two sons, and saw to it that both of them got a college education and were settled into good careers. Greg and Rene just celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary and the kindergarten graduation of twin grandsons.
A couple of years ago, Greg and Rene moved back to Oklahoma and reconnected with Coach Switzer. The coach introduced Greg to Sheriff Lester, who offered Greg a job counseling at-risk youth in the county jail. Greg wanted that job. He knew he could speak with authority and personal conviction from serving years in California’s prisons. But Sheriff Lester could not hire a convicted felon. Enter Dean Hellman, another Switzer connection, who worked the process tirelessly.
On December 20, 2017, Governor Brown’s office called Greg. The voice on the other end said, “Mr. Sims, you can tell Sheriff Lester that you are now ready to take that job.”
I had never gotten over how unfortunate Greg was to wind up in that case, which consumed some two-plus years of my life. He was so good inside; he had so much to offer.
Kudos to Dean Hellman for organizing Greg’s pardon application and to Governor Brown for seeing its merit. I’m thankful for having had the opportunity to lend my support – and to pay back, at least in part, my debt from that long-ago case.