California Man Serving Life Sentence Released after Revealed That Witness Statements Were Coerced

Rickey Godfrey (left) and his wife Anesia Godfrey (right) shortly after Rickey was released from prison in April 2023. (Courtesy of Anesia Godfrey)

By Robert J Hansen

A California man serving life with the possibility of parole was released from Solano State Prison last month by reaching a new plea agreement after serving more than 30 years in prison for a 1992 murder-robbery.

Rickey Godfrey pleaded to robbery and voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 24 years which he has already served, according to the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office.

Godfrey was 18 when he was arrested for the shooting death of Harvey Norfleet and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Godfrey’s 1993 conviction stood on the testimony of two witnesses who testified against Godfrey but who later said they were coerced and their statements recanted in 2010.

“I was a participant in helping the prosecution send the wrong person to prison. I testified at Ricky Godfrey’s trial that he was the shooter who killed Mr. Norfleet,” the witness said. “The person who fired the shot that killed Mr. Norfleet was someone else who was with us that day, named Melvin Holman.”

One of the police officers investigating the case, Dennis Browne, was a member of a notoriously racist gang within the Richmond Police Department which was not presented to the jury at the time of trial, records show.

The Cowboys, an actively organized white supremacist group first emerged in the early 1970s and was publicly exposed to exist within the Richmond Police Department in the early 1980s, local media reported.

Among the police identified as members of the Cowboys were Officers Clinton Mitchell and Samuel Dudkiewicz, along with Sergeants Frank Hanratty and Denn, according to legal documents.

The two witnesses said those officers coerced their statements which then were used to convict Godfrey.

Contra Costa District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) was established in 2019, which is when Godfrey’s case was first submitted and again the following year.

After the CIU delayed the review of Godfrey’s case for years, a different solution was offered. The plea to lesser charges.

By pleading rather than being granted an evidentiary hearing and possibly exonerated, Godfrey was not eligible for any financial compensation or lawsuit against the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office and judicial system.

Godfrey said the process also took far too long.

“The whole process is a joke, they did nothing as long as they could and showed me they don’t care about correcting wrongful convictions,” Godfrey said.

Since 2019, over 70 cases have been submitted to the CIU and have yet to exonerate anyone, according to data obtained from the district attorney’s office.

“I do not believe anyone else … has been released as a result of the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) review process,” according to Sophea Nop, Contra Costa Deputy District Attorney.

Nop said her office engages in sentence modifications through other avenues which represent a larger pool of individuals than CIU and reports such data to RAND as part of the Resentencing Pilot program.

Godfrey said he plans to start working and start a nonprofit dedicated to helping people who have been wrongly convicted.

“I just want to start living my life again and even though I can’t get those years back, I can help other people who shouldn’t be in prison get out sooner than it took me,” Godfrey said.

About The Author

Robert J Hansen is an investigative journalist and economist. Robert is covering the Yolo County DA's race for the Vanguard.

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