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Sunday, February 17 , 2019, 2:56 am | Partly Cloudy 48º


Lompoc Looks To Hire Attorney For Anticipated Wrongful-Conviction Lawsuit

After spending 26 years in state prison, Joel Alcox filed claim against city alleging he was falsely arrested, convicted and incarcerated

The city of Lompoc is poised to hire a special attorney to handle an anticipated lawsuit from a man who spent 26 years in prison for a murder he claims he didn’t commit. 

During its Tuesday night meeting, the City Council will consider hiring the Santa Barbara-based firm of  Nye, Peabody, Stirling, Hale & Miller for legal representation.

City Attorney Joseph Pannone noted that Joel Alcox took the first step toward filing a lawsuit by submitting a claim Sept. 12.

The California Tort Claims Act requires anyone contemplating a lawsuit to first notify the city in writing of its intent to sue.

“Mr. Alcox, through his attorneys, alleges he was falsely arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated for 26 years for a crime he did not commit,” Pannone said in his staff report. 

Alcox, a Lompoc High School graduate who now lives in Southern California, alleged he was falsely prosecuted from March 25, 1986, until May 11, 2016, when the State of California elected not to seek re-trial.

Alcox had been on parole since 2012, Pannone added.

Alcox was convicted in 1987 and sentenced to 25 years to life for the Feb. 16, 1986, murder of Thakorbhai Patel at the Lompoc Motel.

The 49-year-old hotel owner was shot three times and killed in the motel lobby after interrupting a burglary.

However, supporters allege Alcox, who had used LSD, was coerced by investigators to falsely confess to the crime, and had ineffective counsel since his defense attorney failed to investigate a valid alibi to prove he could not have committed the crime.

Additionally, the dying man reportedly identified another person as the shooter, and the second man involving in the crime identified “the real guy” in a jailhouse recording.

During the initial proceedings, Alcox was represented by attorney Ken Biely, who has died. 

In November 2015, a federal judge ruled Alcox had a viable defense that, if presented to a jury, likely would have led to a favorable outcome. 

With rulings alternating in his favor and against, the Alcox case wound its way through several state and federal courts over what his appellate attorney, San Francisco-based Juliana Drous, said were procedural matters. 

“It just amazes me the system is not more concerned with righting a wrongful conviction than they are with paperwork,” Drous said. 

The Alcox case is highlighted on the National Registry of Exonerations. 

“It was clear he was wrongfully convicted from the get-go,” Drous said.

While Drous handled appeal matters, any civil action would involved Santa Barbara-based attorneys Robert Sanger and Frank Ochoa.

“We do not wish to comment in the press on the merits of pending or potential litigation, but will be pleased to speak with the city's representatives,” Sanger said.

Lompoc’s attorney said several factors led him to suggest hiring a special attorney to handle the matter.

“Due to the high profile nature of the case, and the likely high volume of legal work required, the City Attorney’s Office recommends obtaining an outside law firm to undertake the city’s legal representation in this matter,” Pannone said. 

Jonathan Miller, a partner with the firm, agreed to represent Lompoc, Pannone said.

“Mr. Miller, in particular, has previously represented the city in complex legal matters with excellent results. He has reviewed the facts of the case, and has agreed to represent the city’s interests to the fullest extent,” Pannone said in his staff report.

The City Council meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers at 100 Civic Center Drive.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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