Susan Marie Mellen, 59, has spent the last 17 years in prison for the death of her ex-boyfriend Richard Daly. Friday, she was judged innocent of the murder and freed.
“I always knew that one day God would bring the truth to the light,” Susan Marie Mellen, 59, told reporters after she was released from a Torrance courthouse shortly before 6 p.m.
Eight hours earlier, a Los Angeles County judge not only overturned her conviction saying that her defense attorney failed to adequately represent her and that the prosecution’s star witness was a “habitual liar”, he found that she was innocent.
“I believe that not only is Ms. Mellen not guilty, based on what I have read I believe she is innocent,” Superior Court Judge Mark Arnold said, “For that reason I believe in this case the justice system failed.”
The courtroom erupted in applause after the ruling.
Mellen was convicted of beating Richard Daly to death near a California home where Mellen and others lived. Daly’s body was found set on fire in an alleyway. The case was purely circumstantial and heavily relied on witness testimony. Prosecutors said Mellen was angry that Daly had stolen items from her mother’s home. Mellen, a mother of three, was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
After her release, she embraced her now grown children and her 19-month-old grandson, it was the first time she held him.
“This is the greatest miracle ever,” Mellen said, “I’m just so excited, I don’t know what to say. I’m overwhelmed. It’s just so amazing, this is huge.”
Mellen joked with reporters after the announcement even doing the “running man” before the microphones, “I’m a free woman…” Despite the happiness and lighthearted moments, Mellen described her imprisonment as “cruel”.
“I would cry every night” in prison, Mellen said, but never lost faith and even wrote “freedom” on the bottom of her tennis shoes “because I knew I was going to walk free one day.”
Mellen’s case was taken up by Deirdre O’Connor, head of Innocence Matters, a project that seeks to free wrongfully convicted people. The witness who claimed she heard Mellen confess was June Patti. Patti had a long history of false tips to law enforcement in several cases including implicating innocent people and inventing crimes that never happened. She did this with several law enforcement agencies, including Torrance Police Department, Gardena Police Department, Redondo Beach Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Patti’s sister, a police officer, described her as a pathological liar. Soon after Daly’s murder, Patti approached police and alleged that Mellen had sought her advice as a paralegal and confessed. Patti died in 2006.
Mellen was arrested in the summer of 1997 while her 9-year-old daughter looked on. Mellen insisted in all police interviews that she had nothing to do with the murder. At trial, her defense presented several alibi witnesses. Mellen acknowledged that she had drug problems at the time, but was not present at the murder. The LAPD relied heavily on Patti. Her testimony swayed the jury despite the lack of evidence and the alibi witnesses. By 2009, the California Innocence Project began investigating Mellen’s case. In 2013, Innocence Matters began investigating the case as well.
According to news reports, three gang members were linked to the crime and one was convicted of Daly’s murder. All three were known to frequent two houses in the area where Daly was killed. One of the gang members said that Mellen was not present at the murder.
O’Connor said the police detective who arrested Mellen was also responsible for a 1994 case that resulted in the wrongful conviction of two men, who were later exonerated. Reggie Cole and Obie Anthony were convicted on false testimony by an informant who avoided prosecution on unrelated charges in exchange for his testimony.
Mellen said she had no ill will, “I always forgave my enemies. Even your haters, you have to forgive them…”
“Although each member of this family suffered tremendously, they remain a close family unit,” O’Connor said.
Mellen’s youngest child was just 7 at the time of her conviction. Mellen said she hopes to get a McDonald’s Happy Meal with her youngest daughter. “Me and her were at McDonald’s when I got arrested and we didn’t have a happy meal that day,” she said, “… It’s a happy ending right now…We’re going to have a new beginning.”
Before Mellen’s release, her son, who has little memory of her outside of prison because he was too young, opened his shirt to reporters. He had a broken heart tattooed on his chest in honor of his mother’s struggles. Donald Besch, 25, a serviceman in the Navy, told reporters he hopes he can have some time with his mother before his overseas deployment begins. Jessica Besch, 27, Mellen’s daughter, said her and her fiance of 8 years were waiting to marry hoping that her mother could attend. “We’re going to go dress shopping together,” she said. Jessica Besch said that the idea that her mother would ever be free “felt like a dream” and that her release was the “happiest day of my life.”
“It still doesn’t feel real yet…” she said after the announcement.
Mellen’s spent her days behind bars in several facilities, most recently in Central California Women’s Facility. Mellen’s third child, Julie Carroll, 39, brought Mellen’s grandson, Aiden. The children were raised by their grandmother and other relatives after their mother was imprisoned. They said they never told friends where she was or that she had been wrongfully convicted. Mellen always maintained her innocence and told the judge the day she was sentenced that the truth would come to light one day.
Prosecutors from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office concurred with many of the points made in Mellen’s habeas corpus appeal.
RELATED: Innocence Matters