Exoneree James Anderson

At a Glance

  • Innocent Years Served: 4 Years
  • Sentence: 17 ½ Years
  • Wrongful Conviction: Armed Robbery
  • Year: 2004
  • Jurisdiction: Pierce County
  • Released: December 2008
  • Exonerated: December 2008
  • Cost of Wrongful Incarceration*: $155,728
  • Lost Wages**: $161,804

About James

In 2004, James was 26 years old, living in Los Angeles, California.

The Investigation

On April 12, 2004, a payday loan store in Tacoma, Washington, was robbed. A witness picked 26-year-old James Anderson of Los Angeles, California, out of a photo montage. His photo was available to local police because he had once been booked into a jail in Tacoma. James was arrested, extradited from Los Angeles to Tacoma, and charged with the April 12 robbery based on the eyewitness identification. James insisted he could not have committed any robbery in Tacoma because he had been meeting with his probation officer on the day of the robbery in California. When records from the Los Angeles County Probation Office confirmed his claim, the robbery charge was dropped.

Several days later, James was arrested in connection with an earlier robbery in Tacoma, this one of a Safeway store in the early morning hours of April 8. Two men, who were in custody with James on the earlier arrest, claimed James had bragged to them about robbing a Safeway. Surveillance camera video was available of the April 8 robbery, and the two men in custody identified James as one of the robbers in the video footage.

James once again denied involvement, insisting he could not have committed the robbery because, less than 12 hours before the crime occurred, he had been at the Probation Office in Los Angeles. However, the Probation Office did not provide records for the relevant date, and he was charged with the robbery.

James chose to represent himself at trial after disagreeing with his assigned counsel’s advice to plead guilty. The judge appointed standby counsel to assist him. James filed a subpoena for all probation check-in logs from Los Angeles County from April 7 to April 8. However, the Probation Office refused to give Anderson the records directly, and neither his standby attorney nor the prosecution obtained them.

James brought the missing records to the attention of the judge before trial started, but the prosecutor responded that he had personally contacted the Probation Office and there were no records of any contact with Anderson between his release from jail on April 6 and the robbery on April 8.

The prosecution also checked the airlines to see if Anderson had flown to Washington, but found nothing. The only evidence connecting Anderson to the robbery was the identification by the two men, who received dramatically reduced sentence recommendations on other robberies in return for their testimony against James. Although James and his girlfriend, Hasani, testified that he was in California at the time of the robbery, he was convicted and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

Post-Conviction and Exoneration

The Washington Innocence Project began investigating James’s case after his appeals were exhausted. With a simple phone call, records were immediately faxed over proving James had been at the Probation Office in Los Angeles late in the afternoon on April 7, and could not have travelled to Tacoma in time to commit the robbery for which he had been convicted.

The Washington State Court of Appeals granted his Personal Restraint petition and James was released in December 2008. He was exonerated in February 2009 when prosecutors dismissed the charges.

Exonerees James and Jeramie

*Based on the average annual per-person incarceration costs in Washington State as of May 2019. Does not include the financial cost of trial, appeals, community supervision, retrial, or related civil proceedings.
**Based on the average salary by age https://smartasset.com/retirement/the-average-salary-by-age; not including retirement or social security contributions.