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Rocky Mountain Innocence Center working to exonerate Utah man who spent 18 years in prison for murder

Posted at 10:20 PM, Feb 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-16 12:53:13-05

Something as simple as taking a picture with your phone is beyond comprehension for Adrian Gordon, who has spent nearly 18 years behind bars for a murder he says he didn't commit.

“What do you mean pictures on the phone,” Gordon asked his father, Robert Gordon, while on a phone call from prison.

“It's a whole new world out here man,” said  Robert Gordon.

The crime was brutal. In the early morning hours of September 29, 2001, an intellectually disabled man, 50-year-old Lee Lundskog, was beaten to death behind a 7-Eleven in Rose Park.

“I know I didn't do it and I'd go to my death bed with that,” said Adrian Gordon.

The prosecution convinced a judge that Lundskog was stomped to death and the man who did it was 21-year-old, Adrian Gordon. They say the motive was robbery, stealing the $45 Lundskog had in his wallet.

The Rocky Mountain Innocence Center is dedicated to freeing innocent prisoners and they're convinced Gordon is one of them. Jensie Anderson is the Legal Director and Jennifer Springer is the Managing Attorney of the center.

“Just at the outset, his case had a lot of the sort of lynchpins of a wrongful conviction case,” said Anderson.

“The most important piece of physical evidence that we could DNA test today is gone,” said Springer.

Springer and Anderson, who are working for free, say huge mistakes were made. First by Salt Lake City Police when they failed to collect what they say may have been the murder weapon, a cement panel covered in blood, just a couple inches away from Lundskog's head.

“That's really akin to leaving a gun beside a gunshot victim and saying it has nothing to do with the crime,” said Anderson.

Another mistake, they say the prosecution built a case around an unreliable witness.

“This was one of the worst eyewitness ID cases I've ever seen,” said Anderson.

At first, that witness, Gustavo Diaz-Hernandez, was too afraid to go to the police because he was living in the country illegally. He originally sent his friend instead. Then when he did come forward, he wasn't able to identify Gordon in a photo lineup.

“It became very clear that the eyewitness was not telling the truth,” said Anderson.

True or not, Diaz-Hernandez says he was walking by the 7-11 when he saw Gordon stomping on a man's face.

However, the defense says they revisit the scene every year on September 29 at 5:30 a.m. to take a picture of where the alleged murder took place and they question his point of view.

“It was too dark. There were trees in the way from the first angle. There was a brick wall and a dumpster in the way from the second angle,” said Springer.

“We realized immediately that he could not have seen what he said he saw,” said Anderson.

Surveillance video proves Gordon was there that morning. You see him walk into the 7-11, make a phone call, walk out, and walk back in two and a half minutes later. The prosecution says the murder took place in that two and a half minutes he's off camera.

“The tape shows him coming back into the 7-11. He was not out of breath. He was not sweating. There was no sign of any blood on his clothing,” said Anderson.

When the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center took these issues to the Utah Court of Appeals in 2016, a judge refused to grant Gordon a new trial, but they're not giving up. Right now, they're testing items at the crime scene for DNA.

“A number of items were removed from the victim`s pockets. The motivation that the police say was robbery and so we have been testing the items that were removed from those pockets and the pockets themselves,” said Springer.

The first round of testing has not found any traces of Gordon’s DNA.

However, the Assistant Solicitor Generals, Andrew Peterson, and Erin Riley, who are working on the case, don’t believe it will make a difference.

“DNA is not like it’s portrayed on CSI. There's no item we know that the murderer touched that could be tested and exclude Mr. Gordon as the murderer,” said Peterson.

Fox13’s Dora Scheidell took some of the mistakes alleged by the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center to Peterson and Riley, to get their response. For instance, the unreliable point of view of the eyewitness.

“A tree doesn't block everything if you're moving. If you're standing over here, you can see past the tree. If you move past it over here, you can see past the tree,” said Riley.

Also, the fact nobody saw Gordon with any blood on his clothing.

“This wasn't a knife wound. He wasn't slashing through arteries where the blood was spurting up. He's stomping on his head which there's really just a thin layer of skin and blood there and bones,” said Riley.

Also, the police neglected to collect the potential murder weapon.

“The medical examiner who examined both the cement panel and Mr. Lundskog did not believe it was the murder weapon and his testimony is frankly by far the most convincing and compelling,” said Peterson.

“I personally have zero doubt that Adrian Gordon is the murderer,” said Riley.

However, Adrian's father, Robert, questions it every day.

“Everything in that place is made to break him and it's made to break him because he won't admit to something he didn't do,” said Robert Gordon.

He’s clinging to hope at 73-years-old.

“Big as he is, that's still my baby. You're supposed to take care of your babies,” said Robert Gordon.

The prosecution is convinced there is nothing in the DNA testing that would exonerate Gordon. but the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center will not give up. They plan to pursue as many legal avenues as possible before his first chance at parole in 2026.