Man locked up 11 years for robberies he didn't do walks free

A man who spent 11 years in prison for a series of Los Angeles armed robberies he didn't commit was exonerated Tuesday after prosecutors agreed he had been wrongly convicted.

A courtroom erupted in applause as Ruben Martinez Jr. was found innocent and walked free from Los Angeles Superior Court.

A jubilant Martinez, 49, said his prayers had been answered and he was not a bitter man. He thanked his wife, Maria, for not only standing by him but pursuing his freedom vigorously.

Ruben Martinez Jr., center, holds his wife's hand after a news conference at the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles, on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2109. Martinez walked from Los Angeles Superior Court a free man on Tuesday after prosecutors reviewed his unwavering claim of innocence and agreed he had been wronged. (AP PhotoBrian Melley)

"I did not do this time by myself," Martinez said after the short court hearing. "My family did time. My wife did time with me, did the 11 years with me. I couldn't do it on my own, on my own strength. It was God's strength that got me through this."

District Attorney Jackie Lacey apologized to Martinez for the injustice that led to a 47-year prison sentence. Lacey said a "series of unfortunate and ultimately tragic circumstances" led to the conviction and it was her job to right the wrong.

It was only the third time her office has supported vacating a conviction after establishing a unit in 2015 to review wrongful conviction claims. Martinez's case was the first time one of those claims had been brought by an inmate and not a lawyer.

"Mr. Martinez and his wife proved to be unstoppable in their pursuit of his freedom," Lacey said. "Throughout this terrible experience, the two were never deterred by setbacks and instead demonstrated remarkable strength and dignity through what I imagine must have been a dark time in their lives."

Martinez had been convicted of five robberies at the same auto paint shop in the city's Boyle Heights neighborhood between 2005 to 2007. In all but one of those robberies, the robber wore a mask.

His first trial ended with a deadlocked jury. Two of the victims testified at that trial that Martinez was not the robber, said attorney Angela Berry, who was appointed for the exoneration hearing.

Berry said those witnesses were not called by the prosecution or the defense in the subsequent trial that ended with a conviction. Evidence that Martinez had been at work was not adequately presented at trial.

Martinez filed five appeals with state and federal courts that were all rejected.

After learning of the district attorney's conviction review unit, Martinez's wife and a friend who was a former detective with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department prevailed on those investigators to track down alibi witnesses, who said Martinez was at work and couldn't have committed the crimes.