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Innocence Project attorneys at Santa Clara University exonerate California man in prison for 20 years

SANTA CLARA, Calif., May 4, 2004 – John Stoll has spent nearly 20 years in prison. But he will get his freedom back today on his 61st birthday, because of the hard work of the attorneys of the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University School of Law and the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law.

On April 30, Kern County Superior Court Judge John Kelley overturned Stoll’s 1985 conviction. Kelly ruled that techniques investigators used to question the children two decades ago “resulted in unreliable testimony.”

Stoll was convicted of 17 counts of child molestation in 1985. Stoll had long maintained his innocence on grounds that there was no evidence for the charges against him. But he was unable to find attorneys willing to look into his case.

Two years ago, lawyers from the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University School of Law and the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law tracked down Stoll’s alleged victims who are now adults. These witnesses, who testified as children against Stoll, recanted their trial testimony of 20 years ago. The men took the stand and said that the stories of sexual abuse they told as children were lies, and that they were coerced by law enforcement officials into making false allegations against Stoll when they were boys, ages 6 to 8.

“The tragedy of this case is the large number of people who were victimized by the actions of Kern County officials – children, their families, and, most profoundly, John Stoll,” said Linda Starr, legal director of the Northern California Innocence Project. “This ruling is a victory for the Northern California Innocence Project and the students at Santa Clara law school who worked hard on the Stoll case.”

 The Stoll case was one of eight Kern County multi-offender, multi-victim sex ring cases in the mid-1980s. Though 40 people were convicted in the prosecutions, the convictions of a vast majority have been reversed over the years due to witness recantations, prosecutorial misconduct, and improper child witness interviewing techniques, which lead to unreliable testimony.

These witnesses were forced to tell lies that robbed a man of 20 years of his life and robbed them of their innocence,” said Kathleen “Cookie” Ridolfi, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law and executive director of the Northern California Innocence Project. “The children grew up knowing an innocent man was sent to prison because of something they did. John Stoll is a victim but so are the boys and their families. The biggest crime of it all is the District Attorney’s continued refusal to assume responsibility for any of it. Without accountability, we won’t learn from the mistakes, we’ll just keep making them.”

The Northern California Innocence Project and the California Innocence Project are part of the National Innocence Network of similar projects nationwide.  Innocence Project students work alongside practicing criminal defense lawyers to seek the release of wrongfully convicted inmates who maintain their factual innocence. The Northern California Innocence Project, based at both Santa Clara University School of Law and Golden Gate University, handles Northern California cases, while the project at California Western School of Law takes on Southern California cases.

MEDIA:  To request an interview with Kathleen Ridolfi or Linda Starr, contact SCU media relations at 408-554-5125/408-420-8127

About SCU School  of Law

The SCU School of Law, founded in 1912, combines a tradition of excellence with a commitment to ethics, diversity, and social justice, and is fully accredited by the American Bar Association. Many of its 968 students work in criminal and civil community law clinics, and may earn certificates in intellectual property law, international law, or public interest law. Law degrees may be combined with an MBA or master’s degree in taxation, and the law school offers lawyers master’s degrees in international law and intellectual property law.

About Santa Clara University

Santa Clara University, a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university located in California’s Silicon Valley, offers its 8,047 students rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business, and engineering, plus masters and law degrees. Distinguished nationally by the third-highest graduation rate among all U.S. masters’ universities, California’s oldest higher-education institution demonstrates faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice. More information is online at


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