On February 19, 2020, I received an invitation from the American Justice Alliance organization to be part a panel to meet with the Assemblymember Dr. Shirley Weber of San Diego on March 6, 2020. So last Friday, I flew down to San Diego with my purpose to document this effort and report on it and to allow the public more awareness of the plight of Anand Jon Alexander in particular, and those who are wrongly convicted in general. The record seems to show that he received a patently unfair trial and, based on what the previously withheld exculpatory evidence shows, he may well be factually innocent.
As Jeffrey Deskovic, himself an exoneree and head of the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation, told the Vanguard, “Anand Jon’s case is fraught with prosecutorial misconduct and bad lawyering. It is no wonder he was wrongfully convicted.”
Analysis: Was Wrongfully Convicted Fashion Designer a Victim of Racial Prejudice on the Part of Prosecutor?
Frankly, Mr. Alexander, despite his predicament, is rather fortunate. After the disastrous Los Angeles trial in 2008-2009, at which point he was bankrupt and was deemed “indigent,” he made a remarkable comeback. He was able to get a strong grasp of the applicable law, gather resources, and assemble a strong team of supporters to successfully resolve his overlapping out-of-state cases in New York and Texas (2013-2018). This has now allowed him to steadily progress at the Federal District Court level to overturn his California convictions.
The American Justice Alliance human rights organization has an influential team on this case including numerous law firms and volunteers nationwide, including exonerees like Obie Anthony (Exonerated Nation), former Republican Assemblymember Bill Duplissea, former Democratic Senate Leader John Burton, and Washington D.C. based powerhouse attorney, Bart Fisher, all of whom have taken up the cause pro bono.
Even with Anand Jon Alexander’s relative advantages that the typical prisoner does not have, he has spent over 13 years in prison and barely survived a racial hate crime stabbing in 2019. He is suing the State of California for an undisclosed amount.
Anand Jon Alexander was a rising star in the fashion industry in 2007 when he was arrested and ultimately convicted of one count of rape and many counts of lesser sexual offenses. Although there were no injuries on anyone and he had no history of violence, he was sentenced to 59 years to life in prison.
I have never met Mr. Alexander in person, though I have spoken with him a number of times on the phone. I became aware of his case through the American Justice Alliance, which, seeing the Vanguard’s work in the courts on behalf of the wrongly convicted and criminal justice reform, sought me out to look at his case.
As I will explain shortly, through my reading of his petition for habeas corpus and my reading of trial transcripts overtly appealing to racism and the existence of egregious Brady violations, I am convinced that Mr. Alexander did not get a fair trial for certain, and is likely wrongly convicted.
On Friday March 6, a team of a dozen people assembled in San Diego at a hotel. The diverse group ranged in race, age and careers from college students to prominent attorneys, filmmakers, actresses and exonerees. The meeting got pushed back from noon to 1:30 so that Dr. Weber could attend the funeral of Rev. George Walker, the first African American elected to office in city history.
Dr. Weber explained that she had cleared her calendar, except for this meeting, because she knew that so many of the group had assembled from out of town on this compelling matter involving an injustice. Dr. Weber, one of the leading African American women in California politics, is no stranger to racism and has been a pioneering reformist in bills that have led to curb abuse of power: police use of deadly force (AB 392), in preserving evidence, and the Restorative Justice Act, AB 2590.
Attorney Tim Milner explained that he has been a lawyer for 40 years and usually tends to shy away from scandalous sex cases, but this was an exceptional case. “This man is innocent,” he said. “He also had one of the worst trials that I’ve seen.” He noted that he has done at least 80 trials and “this guy did not get a fair shake.
“He was a fashion designer on the cover of Newsweek and well known by many celebrities,” he said, noting his involvement stemmed from his involvement in the commutation paperwork. “We’re here today because we’re generally trying to get support for this man—whatever that turns out to be.”
Similarly, Assemblymember Patty Lopez wrote a letter on behalf of Anand Jon’s commutation, urging then-Governor Jerry Brown: “In our research, we found that the misconduct of the Beverly Hills Police Department (‘BHPD’) and the Los Angeles District Attorney (‘LADA”‘) in the People v. Anand Jon Alexander (LA Superior Case No. BA327190) utterly shocking.”
She continues, saying that “the trial judge on the record stated he was ‘troubled’ with this case and ‘not happy with the way the [prosecutors] handled this case.’ Even more disturbing, a decade later the BHPD continues to withhold favorable materials they previously admitted to possessing and now refuse to explain how or why they cannot produce it pursuant to court orders.”
Tim Milner briefly explained the case to Dr. Weber. Anand Jon had a number of young women who basically wanted to become the next “It Girl.” Anand Jon conceded his party boy lifestyle and that there was consensual sex, but as even the evidence showed there were “no assault-related findings,” while any allegation of physical force or threats was dubious.
The allegations came in months or even years after the fact.
“It’s basically a group of women who get together later and decide… we didn’t get to go on the catwalk we thought we were going to,” he said. “They came together and came up with a story that could be believed by a jury.”
He called it, “A perfect storm of things that could go wrong” and explained a shocking but documented account of juror misconduct. One of the jurors attempted to contact the sister of Anand Jon—“there’s an actual mini-trial during this trial (and) he gets convicted of juror misconduct.”
“Juror No.12 actually gets convicted of juror misconduct before the Anand Jon trial is over—that should be an automatic mistrial… The judge did not get him a new trial,” he said.
He also noted that there are comments by the prosecutor “which just flat out show racial bias.”
As the Vanguard ran in the article from last fall, the rebuttal from LA Deputy DA Frances Young clearly shows the race card here.
In one remark: “LET’S LOOK AT THE SIMILARITIES BETWEEN THESE GIRLS. WHAT DID YOU ALL NOTICE ABOUT THEM? BEING A MINORITY, I NOTICED THEY WERE ALL WHITE. I NOTICED THAT THEY WERE ALL YOUNG.”
Then the DDA paints another picture—that of stereotype of a dirty Indian, besmirching the clean, young, presumably pristine and innocent “white women.”
Anand Jon in contrast to the women was portrayed as a dirty, smelly sex cult guru.
The DDA: “THEY ALL SAID AND EXPERIENCED THE SAME ASSAULT ON A CRUDDY AIR MATTRESS THAT YOU SAW PRESENTED HERE WITH DIRTY SHEETS, DIRTY TOWELS, SMELLY T-SHIRTS.”
Later: “You know that Ferrari T-shirt that the clerk has. I don’t know if you want to do that, take a whiff of it. It’s not pleasant. It corroborates exactly what they said. He smelled. His apartment was disgusting.”
Later she added, “They all told you he smelled,” and she specifically demonized Anand Jon’s religion Indian-Jewish culture, meditating cross legged, Kamasutra and foreign (Hebrew) symbols.
This is a clear appeal to racism and indirect violation of the court ruling not to go into race or religious areas.
Another major problem is the Myspace communications withheld for over a decade. The premise of the prosecution is that these women had no motives, do not know each other, and came together with similar complaints, therefore they must have experienced the same behavior by Anand Jon.
The DDA argues that the “sheer number of unrelated witnesses making similar allegations of sexual abuse” demonstrates his guilt. In her opening statement: “None of these girls know each other . . . have no contact with each other . . .”
But in fact, as is documented in the hundreds of online exchanges that were withheld by the Beverly Hills police for over a decade, and now included in numerous new filings, there is a concerted effort and financial-publicity motives by several of the victims to communicate and get the stories straight. The prosecution not only lied to the jury about the state of the evidence, but withheld it from the defense.
This is a clear Brady violation by the prosecution. This is prosecutorial misconduct.
Tim Milner said, “We can see blatant racism here. It hurt to even hear it.”
Amy Povah herself served nine years in prison before President Bill Clinton commuted her sentence—a 24-year sentence for conspiracy charges in a high profile MDMA (Ecstasy) case dating back to 1989. She now serves as an advocate for mostly federal clemency cases.
She was involved in the three most recent commutations by President Trump.
“What concerns me about Anand,” she said, is that “clemency is about mercy. So many people receive clemency who are not innocent… The sentence he received is so disproportionate to a normal case with the same allegations. He was convicted on very thin evidence.”
Setting aside other issues, she said that “59 years to life is madness for a first offense with someone… it so disproportionate to other cases. Many rape cases, they never served a day, they just got probation.”
She added, “This really seems like this was racially charged with a lot of motive behind it.” Amy Povah added, “Dr. Weber was very moved by the presentation. She kept talking long after our time was up. that’s always a good sign.”
Clemency, she said, was about “correcting an injustice,” which goes beyond simply guilt or innocence.
Dr. Weber listened patiently to the case for nearly an hour. While she acknowledged the injustice and made significant recommendations on how best to proceed, she still needed to consult with others with expertise within her legal team and others. But she did talk about reading Just Mercy from Bryan Stephenson right now and she continued to talk and engage well after the allotted time was up.
Dr. Weber recommended and was going to connect with other minority organizations involved, such as the Asian Pacific Islander committee, headed by Assemblymember Ash Kalra—himself a former public defender in Santa Clara County, not to mention one of the rare South Asians to have reached such a prominent position.
Prominent community leader Rajendra Vora of Beverly Hills noted, “Dr Shirley Weber was shocked to read Anand’s case and listened everyone very carefully.”
Rajendra Vora said he came down to San Diego from Beverly Hills to help free Anand Jon.
“Anand is a very famous name in India, Indian designer—at the age of 29, he was imprisoned for 59 years and that was too strong,” he said. “There is so much prosecutorial misconduct and racial (prejudice)” that led to his wrongful conviction.
He said that Dr. Weber “was very good and supportive,” but, at the same time, he said that “a lot of work still needs to be done. We are very hopeful that a team will get assemblymembers and senators to pick up the cause and tell the governor to get him freed.”
Shazia Khan, a young documentary filmmaker and graduate of UCLA Master’s program covering the meeting, stated, “I saw the gross injustice which is going on for so many years,” she said. She found the 59-year-to-life sentence “completely disproportionate to the things that happened.”
She came down to San Diego “because we wanted to speak to… Assemblymember Weber because of the phenomenal work that she has done and was hoping she would step in and bring justice to this very delayed injustice.”
Ms. Khan explained, “I’m from India and 14 to 15 years is a sentence that you get for murder in India. He’s already suffered that sentence. His trauma should be over.” Keeping aside the evidence of factual innocence, “He’s given his time,” she added.
Mariana Cordoba comes from a prestigious diplomatic family in Colombia, and is a successful actress currently residing in Los Angeles.
“I got involved when I started reading about Anand’s case,” Ms. Cordoba explained. “I’m a Colombian actress and activist. In Colombia I worked with the health department for the government as well as with hospitals and prisons.
“I rehabilitated people through arts,” she said.
She said that there are constant human rights issues in Colombia, “but now that I live here in America, I’m actually more aware of the situation. How immigrants are constantly judged… it’s astounding as to what you see out there.”
She tells the story of getting on a plane from Miami to Nebraska and was warned by the flight attendant not to go. She was told she would be killed because white people were flying on the plane and she had dark skin.
“That’s how brutal it is in America,” she said. “Already four years, I’ve seen a lot of atrocities.”
Ms. Cordoba came down from LA because “I wanted to meet Assemblymember Weber. I think she’s an amazing lady. She also has been very much involved in small communities—I think Anand’s case is about race, it’s about a trial that was completely biased on moral grounds, on social grounds, racial and a lot of xenophobia.”
She said, “I think that the meeting was extremely positive. The group of people that were there showed the array of diversity that is fighting for the same cause.”
She said that “there’s definitely a common problem and I believe that Assemblymember Weber saw that at that meeting.”
International Innovators research team of Victoria Olongo and Georgette Ayaz have been working on Anand Jon’s freedom, among other charitable causes. Ms. Olongo’s brother Alfred Olongo was shot and killed by police in San Diego and has since become actively involved in such abuse of power cases.
Ms. Ayaz told the Vanguard that she got involved “through internet research and a family friend. I found his case, super devastating to have a man incarcerated for 59 years for something that the evidence shows he most likely did not do.” Many people commit horrendous crimes and are running around free, “and don’t even get punished for it.”
While everyone came away with a positive feeling, there is more work to be done, including getting those like Assemblymember Dr. Weber, Ash Kalra and more to review the voluminous documentation and take actual action.
Governor Newsom has been more amenable than many to a commutation. Attorneys have told the Vanguard that ordinarily they would not recommend attempting the commutation route, but that this governor is different. But that also means a long line of cases that the governor will have to traverse.
Anand Jon Alexander’s legal team is continuing with the habeas process as well. But, if anything, his case shows how difficult this is—grave injustice, compelling narrative, and a large and diverse group of supporters with lots of resources behind them, and we are still going on 13 years of wrongful incarceration.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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