He Was in Prison. She Was in Covid Lockdown. They Freed Each Other.

Four years ago, as a deadly virus began to upend the world, Jessica Jacobs was at home in Los Angeles, in a wooded canyon that has long attracted bohemian types, and like many Americans was binge-watching true crime documentaries on Netflix.

One of them would change her life.

Watching an episode of “The Innocence Files,” about a Los Angeles man who served 20 years in prison for a murder he did not commit and the lawyer who freed him, Ms. Jacobs sensed she had found a calling. So she reached out to the lawyer, Ellen Eggers, and told her she wanted to help investigate cases like the one on the show.

Ms. Eggers, a retired public defender who once worked for Cesar Chavez helping farmworkers become lawyers and now works on innocence cases for no fee, was skeptical of Ms. Jacobs’s overture. But she was overburdened with cases, and Ms. Jacobs was insistent. Eventually, she told Ms. Jacobs about the case of Jofama Coleman, which Ms. Eggers had learned about from Mr. Coleman’s ex-wife.

At the time, Mr. Coleman was confined to a cell in Corcoran, Calif., a town in the Central Valley with two main industries, farming and prisons. He had spent years in the prison library — learning the law, studying his case and filing motions asserting that he had nothing to do with the drive-by shooting in South Central Los Angeles for which he was convicted of being the getaway driver and sentenced to 25 years to life.

Jofama Coleman on the campus of the University of California, Riverside, where he is studying public policy. He plans to earn a law degree and then work on wrongful convictions.Credit…Alex Welsh for The New York Times

Getting nowhere with the courts and now dealing with a deadly pandemic behind bars, Mr. Coleman was losing hope. Out of despair, he shared his story online, hoping someone would read it and want to help him:

“I’m a Black male who grew up in a single parent home with no wealth and platform. As such, the wrongs I suffer are easily swept under the rug. For over 5,890 days I’ve had to maintain my sanity as I fall asleep and wake up behind concrete walls and bars for a crime I did not commit.”

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