SAN QUENTIN — Glen “Buddy” Nickerson walked out of San Quentin State Prison a free man Monday, 17 years after he says he was wrongly sentenced to life in prison for two murders.
“I didn’t do it, and I’ve been saying it for 17 years,” Nickerson said after his release, hugging two attorneys who have fought to free him for the past five years.
A federal judge presiding over Nickerson’s innocence appeal believes he may not be guilty of the charges, and has ordered him released until court proceedings before her are concluded.
“I knew all along that he was wrongly convicted,” said Nickerson’s father, Glen Nickerson Sr., who waited outside the prison gate to greet Nickerson with a dozen other friends and family members.
Nickerson’s family posted the $500,000 bail before U.S. Magistrate Joseph Spero, who urged the prisoner to abide by a litany of rules, including getting a job and staying out of trouble as his appeal before a different federal judge proceeds.
“I give my word, your honor,” Nickerson, 45, replied to the judge.
After his release, the tattooed Nickerson said he plans to “find a job and try to get my life back together.”
U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel said June 1 that evidence before her “strongly suggest that the trial which resulted in (Nickerson’s) convictions was marked by suppression and destruction of evidence and perjury by the state’s investigators.”
State prosecutors objected to his release.
Deputy Attorney General Gregory Ott told Spero that “we are dealing with a convicted double murderer.”
Patel and Nickerson’s attorneys have complained since November that Santa Clara County and state prosecutors have dragged their feet in complying with orders to produce a host of documents and statements she has ordered in the case.
“We can drag this out when he’s not in custody,” Patel said during a hearing last month.
Nickerson’s lawyers have assembled new evidence casting doubt on his conviction for his role in a 1984 shootout that left two men dead and set off years of still-unresolved litigation.
Patel ordered prosecutors to file documents outlining what evidence they have that would contradict a host of new evidence that prompted his attorney, M. Gerald Schwartzbach, to declare Nickerson “an innocent man.”
Such evidence has not been forthcoming, Patel said.
The new evidence from Nickerson’s attorneys includes the recent arrest and filing of murder charges against a long-sought suspect who has been linked to the murder scene through DNA evidence, admitted he was there and told investigators that Nickerson had nothing to do with the crime.
Nickerson was convicted of the 1984 ambush shooting at a condominium in an unincorporated area of Santa Clara County, between San Jose and Los Gatos. After an apparent botched drug deal, a gunfight broke out and John Evans and his stepbrother, Mickie King, were shot to death.
A third man, Michael Osorio, also was shot in the head, but survived to testify.
Authorities eventually convicted Nickerson and two others.
Evidence prompting Patel to determine that a jury would not find Nickerson guilty today includes the arrest two years ago of William Jahn, who was linked through DNA testing to one of the unsolved mysteries of the murder scene. Jahn’s trial is pending.
One of the three attackers had been wounded during the gunfight, and fled from the condo, leaving a trail of blood.
Jahn, picked up on a drug and weapons charge in San Jose in 1997, was matched to the blood trail; he also has scarring and metal fragments in his body from a gunshot wound.
Prosecutors charged Jahn in March with murder in connection to the Evans and King murders. Jahn, while in custody, told Nickerson’s lawyers that Nickerson was not involved.
Osorio, the surviving victim, testified that there were three attackers of average height and weight. At the time, Nickerson weighed 425 pounds. Jahn, however, fits the description given by Osorio, who nevertheless identified Nickerson as one of the assailants at trial, Nickerson’s attorneys said.
The case is Nickerson v. Roe, C98-04909MHP.