Kimberly Long was the subject of the Independent’s June 2015 cover story, “Guilty Until Proven Innocent”; she was in prison after being convicted of murdering her boyfriend.
Long insisted she was innocent—and her case caught the attention of the California Innocence Project.
“I know I’m going home,” Long told the Independent last year. “It’s just a matter of time. … I know I’m coming home, and I have the utmost faith in the California Innocence Project—and faith in God.”
Long’s faith was rewarded: On June 10, Riverside Superior Court Judge Patrick Magers reversed Long’s conviction, ruling that Long’s public defender did not provide adequate representation. She was released on bail, after being in prison since 2009.
“I couldn’t believe it was actually happening,” Long told the Independent in a recent interview. “Being released from the jail, walking out to fresh air and no correctional officers, it was a different kind of feeling. It’s been absolutely fantastic since that day.”
However, Long’s freedom is not assured: Prosecutors may try her again, for what would be the third time.
On Oct. 5, 2003, Long spent the day bar-hopping with her boyfriend, Oswaldo “Ozzy” Conde and their mutual friend, Jeff Dills. Around 11 p.m. that night, they returned to their home in Corona and got into a fight. Long left with Dills to cool off, she says, and when she returned home a few hours later, she found Conde on their sofa—he had been brutally murdered.
Long was tried twice. The first trial ended in a hung jury, with nine of the 12 jurors voting to acquit. Her second ended in a guilty verdict for second-degree murder—even though the judge stated he would have acquitted her.
Alissa Bjerkhoel, Long’s attorney from the California Innocence Project, explained what comes next for Long.
“After we get a conviction reversed, prosecutors have two options, and they can do one or both,” said Bjerkhoel. “The first thing is they’re going to appeal the decision. They’re going to do that, and it’s going to put Kim in this legal limbo for about two years or so, until the appeal is resolved. Then after that, they have the option to put her on trial again for a third time. Right now, they’re telling us they’re going to do both. We’re hopeful that might change in the future, but they seem to be taking this conviction reversal a bit hard.”
Still, for Long and the California Innocence Project, the verdict reversal was a pleasant surprise. Bjerkhoel told me last year she expected Long’s case to be an uphill battle.
“I was worried at first, because we’ve lost this case so many times,” Bjerkhoel said. “And we’ve lost it with really unfortunate decisions. We’d say she didn’t do it, and the evidence showed she didn’t do it, but unfortunately, we’d hear, ‘You don’t meet our standards,’ or, ‘Our hands are tied, and that’s that.’
“The standards to get your conviction reversed in California are crazy. We were really lucky the judge we had was the original trial judge: (Magers) was familiar with the case and all the evidence, and sat through two trials already. … (That) really benefitted us, because he was the most knowledgeable about the case and knew how problematic it was. We tell Kim she’s a lucky one: ‘You’re one who got out, and it’s hard to do.’’’
Despite Bjerkhoel’s concerns, Long said she’s confident about her future.
“I don’t even see myself standing trial again, and I don’t even see a negative outcome in this case from here on out. I don’t see it happening,” Long said. “In my head, I see it as already over with, except for this little part.”
Long said she’s lucky compared to some of the other people the California Innocence Project has helped exonerate.
“I haven’t spent as much time in prison as others have,” she said. … “Technology probably changed a little bit, but I think what’s different is the fact my kids are older now, and I’m trying to find my purpose in life today. Many years ago, I was a mom, and I was helping them do their homework, taking them to baseball practice and whatnot. Now it’s not like that: They’re 18 and 23, and they have their own lives. Now I’m a 40-year-old woman trying to find my place in life.”
Long is facing problems that all ex-inmates go through.
“It’s just trying to get re-established. If you want to work again, you need a vehicle to do so—plus you need to have health insurance,” she said. “There are so many things you need to re-establish in your life. I was very independent before, and now I’m dependent on people, and that’s a very hard place to be.”
Even though she currently has no conviction on her record, Long said she’s still finding it hard to find employment.
“I actually went for a job interview to be a paralegal, and what I ran into is that there is a big gap on my resume,” said Long, a former nurse. “That’s what everyone wants to know about: why I’m not working as a nurse, and why I want to be a paralegal. I’m not a good liar, and I can’t lie about it. I ended up having to tell this guy everything about me. Needless to say, I didn’t get a call back, and that part is rough. I’m looking at ex-felon job sites when I’m not even an ex-felon.”
Meanwhile, Bjerkhoel and her team are working to keep Long free.
“We knew about the hearing since last fall,” Bjerkhoel said about the June 10 court date. “We did the hearing; Kim was released, and now we’re going into the appeal process.”