34 Years for Wrongful Conviction, Man Says

     LOS ANGELES (CN) - A man who spent 34 years in jail for a murder he says he did not commit sued Los Angeles Police Department investigators who allegedly fabricated evidence against him.
     Kash Delano Register sued the City of Los Angeles, LAPD detectives Richard Zolkowski, Lee Kingsford, Glen Bier, and Officers Gene Hubenthal, Martin Zuburi and G.W. Hallanger in Federal Court, alleging violation of due process and fair trial rights, malicious prosecution, civil rights conspiracy and other counts.
     Register always maintained his innocence after he was arrested in 1979, age 18, for the armed robbery and murder of 79-year-old Jack Sasson in West Los Angeles, he says in his June 13 complaint.
     Sasson was robbed of his wallet and shot five times while he sat in his blue Chevrolet outside his home on South Shenandoah Street in West Los Angeles. He died three weeks later, on April 27, 1979, according to the court filing.
     Register says he was living with his mother and older brother in an apartment close to the shooting. Though he was nowhere near the crime, investigators arrested him on the morning of April 10 that year. Register notes that a pair of pants taken by authorities from his apartment had a spot of blood on them, and that investigators concluded the blood was Type O.
     "Mr. Register, Mr. Sasson, approximately 3.2 million Los Angeles County residents at the time, and about 45 percent of Americans have Type O blood," the complaint states.
     Register was convicted of first-degree murder on Oct. 31 and sentenced to life without parole.
     "No forensic evidence ever linked the innocent black teen to the murder," the lawsuit states.
     Register claims he spent decades in jail for crimes he did not commit because investigating detectives and officers "cared more about convicting someone for this murder than about finding the true perpetrator."
     "Defendants used unconstitutional means - including coercion and direct suggestion - to obtain false identifications of Mr. Register from two separate witnesses, even though Mr. Register had been nowhere near the crime scene. The first, Brenda Anderson, had witnessed the murder but could not identify the perpetrator. The second, Elliot Singleton, had not witnessed the crime at all," the lawsuit states.
     According to Register, Zolkowski and Kingsford persuaded Anderson, a "compulsive liar and drug addict" who lived in an apartment on the victim's street, to select Register from a photo array after an initial LAPD investigation of the crime scene revealed no suspects. Anderson identified Register, whom she recognized as a former high school classmate, after the investigators promised they would not prosecute her for credit card forgery and for allegedly stealing Avon products from a neighbor's doorstep, accompanied by her sister Sharon, according to the complaint.
     Singleton was painting inside his house in Sasson's neighborhood at the time of the robbery and did not see the person who committed the crime, Register says.
     Singleton claimed that he chased the perpetrator down the street but testified at Register's 2013 habeas hearing that that his "account of chasing the suspect on foot did not sound like something he would do and sounded 'crazy,'" the lawsuit states.
     "Defendants then ensured Mr. Register's wrongful conviction by hiding evidence of his innocence from the prosecution and defense. This included an emphatic statement from Brenda's sister, Sharon Anderson, that she had witnessed the crime and knew Mr. Register was not the perpetrator, as well as evidence of the threats, coercion, suggestion and other influence defendants had used to procure the false identifications," the complaint states.
     Register says it was Anderson's sister Sheila Vanderkam, who at that time worked at the LAPD as a Crime Prevention Assistant and was an aspiring officer, who eventually helped establish his innocence.
     "Ms. Vanderkam, who had been a low-level employee of the LAPD in 1979, told lead LAPD Detective Richard Zolkowski at the time that she knew that Brenda Anderson's alleged identification of Mr. Register was false, and that her sister was a liar," the lawsuit states. "In response, Det. Zolkowski put one finger up to his lips and instructed Ms. Vanderkam to 'shhh.' Ms. Vanderkam, fearing for her job and career, complied with the direction of her superior not to mention this again. Defendants never told the prosecution or defense of this exculpatory information, either."
     Vanderkam learned of Register's fate 33 years later, when in 2011 she remembered his distinctive name and searched for it at a prison locator website for the California Department of Corrections.
     "With the assistance of a paralegal, Keith Chandler, Ms. Vanderkam collected evidence of Mr. Register's innocence - and the buried LAPD misconduct that had caused his wrongful conviction - that would form the basis for a habeas petition," the lawsuit states.
     Register was released from prison in November 2013, and prosecutors dismissed the charges against him a month later, the according to the complaint.
     Register seeks a jury trial, compensatory and punitive damages and costs.
     He is represented by Kevin LaHue of Pasadena.