My name is Sean O’Brien. In 2004, at 16 years old, I was wrongfully convicted and sentenced as an adult to Life Without the Possibility of Parole.
I was arrested on charges of First Degree Felony-Murder in El Dorado County, California. Besides the alleged ‘confessions’ of two young men who were guilty of the crime and a handful of their friends, the police had nothing to base their suspicion on. To this day they have even less. There is no factual evidence to substantiate any of their claims. There is not one shred of physical evidence tying me to the crime.
Yet the prosecutor filed charges directly against me into adult court; this is no longer legal under Proposition 57. At my trial the prosecution completely changed their theory of the crime on the second day, and I was inadequately defended by a lawyer who has since written a 19-page declaration outlining his inability to defend me. I was wrongfully convicted of a crime I did not participate in nor had any knowledge of.
The police, investigators, and prosecuting attorneys have acted with complete disregard for the truth. So far, they have systematically manipulated the legal system to ignore every claim we raise in my defense. They have been allowed to do this by judge after judge who has done the same, despite the substantial amount of evidence proving my factual innocence.
In 2015, things finally began to change. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted me an Evidentiary Hearing on my claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. In January 2017 my Evidentiary Hearing was held in Federal District Court in Sacramento, CA. We proved everything the Ninth Circuit based their ruling on and now as of September 2018, we are still waiting for the Magistrate’s ruling.
Below I will give a summary outline of the allegations against me, what allowed them to be made, and my innocence.
Leading up to the Accusations
The murder of Kyle Smelser occurred on February 26, 2003. Afterward, one of the victim’s neighbors told police they had seen a green truck and a white car at the same time on the day of the murder. A man by the name of Royce Clayton randomly told police, “Sean O’Brien’s mom drives a green Suburban-type vehicle.” (It should be noted that my mom’s green Chevy Tahoe was at her business the entire day on February 26, 2003 and the green truck and white car lead was never investigated further) Based on Clayton’s statements the police began telling people that they were looking for Sean O’Brien. In the small town of Placerville, this spread like wildfire.
The police quickly learned that I had been sent to boarding school in Oregon for my marijuana use. I was sent to the Bridge Academy in Oregon on February 28, 2003; coincidentally two days after the murder of which I was completely unaware. The following day, March 1, the police came to Oregon and interviewed me without reading me my rights, obtaining parental consent (I was 16), or providing me any legal protections. After I freely spoke with police answering all their questions, they left.
Back in Placerville no one besides the police knew where I was, making it appear as if I had disappeared just days after the murder. People were hearing rumors that the police wanted to talk to me, this allowed two older boys who did not know me to accuse me of the burglary that led to the murder of Smelser.
In 2003 William Wellman was 20 years old and Tyler Dickson was 17. Both confessed to participation in the burglary while attempting to place all the blame for the crimes on me. Dickson even asked the detectives if he could go back to work after confessing- neither of them realized that California’s Felony-Murder Rule made them automatically guilty of the murder.
Wellman, who was potentially looking at the Death Penalty, took a plea deal that reduced his charges to 2nd Degree Murder with a Sentence of 15 years to life as long as he testified against me. He has since been paroled. Dickson went to trial and was found guilty of 1st Degree Murder and sentenced to 26 years to life.
Alleged Crime and Trial
The details of Wellman and Dickson’s stories of how the crime occurred vary greatly between the two and changed between their initial statements to police and their testimony at trial. Initially they both told police the murder occurred between 11 am and 1 pm. Then in an unrecorded interview with Wellman 33 days before trial and 10 days after the disclosure of my alibi to the prosecutor, Wellman changed the times to between 9 am and 11 am. The prosecutor did not inform my lawyer until the second day of trial. Even though this time change destroyed my prepared alibi defense as my lawyer had only investigated my alibi for the original time, he failed to make an objection of any kind.
Based on this change in time and the testimony of Wellman and Dickson, the prosecutor argued that Wellman and Dickson came to my house on the morning of February 26, 2003. Alleging they had stayed there for 10 to 30 minutes before going to the Big Horn Gun Shop. Three young men arrived after the gun shop opened at 10 am and were the first customers in the door according to the store clerk. Wellman, the only adult, purchased a box of shotgun shells. From there they went to Smelser’s house, taking between 5 to 10 minutes to commit the crime.
According to Wellman, upon arriving at the victim’s house they saw a truck parked in the driveway. There is no explanation of why this didn’t cause them to leave immediately. Wellman claims that he went to the front door and knocked but when no one answered, he returned to the truck to retrieve the shotgun. Wellman claims that he and Dickson followed me into the house at which point Smelser came out of a back room. Wellman states that he and Dickson ran outside and heard a single shot being fired. He claims I came outside and they both followed me back inside to take marijuana and money from one of the bedrooms before leaving. Wellman states that after the crime I threw the victim’s gun into a pond before they returned to my house, staying 30-40 minutes.
Neither Wellman or Dickson could tell the detectives where my house was or how they drove from my house to the crime scene and back, something they should have been able to do if their testimony had been true. The detectives then drove four different routes from my house to the crime scene and back taking 36, 39, 41, and 47 minutes. At the Evidentiary Hearing the actual drive time has been established as 47 minutes.
To dispute my defense the prosecutor presented the majority of my alibi evidence including numerous phone calls and phone records for calls to and from my house at 10:11, 10:30, 11:25, 11:28, 11:31, 11:32, 11:44, and 11:47 am. Each individual testifying to these phone calls said they had spoken with me during the call. The prosecutor also produced witnesses who testified they were at my house from 11:45 to 12:00 pm or into the afternoon. The prosecutor proved I was home until at least 10:30 am and after 11:30 am (the original time frame of 11:00-1 pm) The prosecutor credited my testimony for a phone call I made at 10:45 am. Then he argued to the jury that there was a time gap in my alibi of 45 minutes from 10:45 to 11;30 am and that the crime could have taken place in as little as 36 minutes.
The prosecutor presented no physical evidence of any kind; his entire case against me was built on the testimony of Wellman and Dickson and three of their friends who I also knew.
- Chantel Michaud was close to Dickson. She falsely testified that I had told her I planned to go steal some money, marijuana, and dirt bikes, she also testified to the 10:30 am phone call establishing that I was home at 10:30 am.
- J.D. Petty falsely testified that he loaned me a shotgun to go skeet shooting the morning of the murder. He testified that he dropped the shotgun off at my house on his way to school and attempted to corroborate this story with a 7:55 am phone call to my house. Petty’s High School Administrator testified that Petty was present in school at 7:55 am the morning of the murder. Petty also testified that he picked the shotgun up from my house after school; however his work schedule and conflicting testimony from those who were at my house that day impeached his testimony and proved it was a lie.
- Cliff Sargeant falsely testified that I told him I committed the murder. Then he admitted what he was testifying to was not spoken to him by me, but rather rumors he had heard.
Ultimately I was charged with First-Degree Felony Murder during commission of a burglary and possession of a firearm. At 16 years old I was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to Life Without the Possibility of Parole. I am still waiting for my rightful freedom.
THIS PAGE STILL IN PROGRESS, SEAN JUST SENT ME THE REMAINDER AND I HAVENT HAD TIME TO TYPE IT ALL UP YET. THANKS