In August 1997, John Klene and Susan Mellen had no reason to know they would soon suffer the same fate. Although they lived a few blocks apart in a Lawndale, California neighborhood, they did not know each other or travel in the same circles. Susan was a 42-year-old mother of three and John was an eighteen-year-old college student living at home with his family. Within a two-week period, each would be charged with a murder they did not commit. John was charged on August 14 with killing a gang member, Antonio Alarcon, in a drive-by shooting. Susan was charged on August 25 with the brutal bludgeoning death of a homeless man, Rick Daly.
Only the police and the prosecutor knew at the time how the seemingly unrelated killings were disturbingly connected. It was a secret they would keep for seventeen years.
On October 10, 2014, Susan finally walked out of the Torrance Courthouse a free woman when the Los Angeles County District Attorney Office Habeas Corpus Litigation Team (HABLIT) ultimately conceded Susan’s sole accuser was a pathological liar. By all other accounts, the vicious murder was committed by three known Lawndale gang members, Chad “Ghost” Landrum, Lester “Wicked” Monllor, and Santo “Payaso” Alvarez, but only Ghost was convicted.
Two of the three Lawndale 13 gang members reportedly involved in the crime, Wicked and Payaso (both pictured left in 2014) spent the past 17 years without the burden of a murder conviction, free to use their time as they saw fit.
Innocence Matters learned about Susan’s case, and the Ghost-Payaso-Wicked connection to John Klene’s case while investigating John’s innocence.
In the course of our investigation in 2012, Innocence Matters met a man who confessed to being Alarcon’s actual murderer: Chad “Ghost” Landrum.
That’s right, the guy who killed Rick Daly also killed Antonio Alarcon.
The connection between John’s and Susan’s wrongful conviction gets even more bizarre!
John, like Susan, was convicted solely on the statements of an unreliable witness. Days after the Alarcon murder, Payaso was arrested for possessing a weapon and drug paraphernalia. Not wanting to face the consequences, he made a ridiculous claim to have overheard John and a couple others making plans to kill a random member of a rival gang as Payaso rode by them on his bicycle. Fortuitously for Payaso, so the story goes, Payaso happened to ride his bike past the same group the next day and overheard one of them say “they blasted some fool,” whom Payaso and the cops presumed was Alarcon. The police did not investigate; they did not have any evidence to corroborate Payaso’s statement; and they did not look for any. Nor did they question Payaso regarding the implausibility of his story.
Due to the trial advocacy skills of the trial prosecutor–the same one who secured a conviction against Susan Mellen–John and his co-defendant were ultimately wrongly convicted of the drive-by shooting of Alarcon based on the false statements of Payaso.
That’s right, the guy who got away with helping Ghost murder the homeless man was the prosecution’s star witness against John Klene!
Seventeen years later, John is still in prison and Payaso is free.
Learn more about John Klene’s case by following our blog. Next update, learn the details of Payaso’s unbelievable statement. You can also learn more about Susan Mellen’s case here.
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