It's been 14 years since David Jonathan Quindt was wrongly convicted of a murder he didn't commit. In an interview with Patch from his Wainanae, Hawaii home, Quindt says his life has never been the same since he was accused of the 1998 killing of Fair Oaks teenager Patrick Riley Haeling.
Quindt is the first to admit he was no saint back then. He gangbanged; he sold drugs; he was in possession of unregistered weapons. But a murderer, he was not.
“I’m an ex-gangbanger – I’m not going to deny that – it’s true,” Quindt said. “When my first daughter was born, though, I promised myself I was going to change and I had changed.”
Quindt explained he stopped hanging out with his tough crowd. But his reputation stuck, and according to a new exoneration database compiled by University of Michigan Law in conjunction with Northwestern University Law, was one of the factors that led police to question him in the 1998 murder of Haeling, .
Haeling had been visiting a friend’s home, when three armed gunmen entered the home demanding drugs they knew to be hidden at the home. When the altercation escalated, the gunmen opened fire on Healing and his friend, critically wounding the friend and fatally wounding Haeling. An eyewitness identified Quindt as one of three men who entered the victim’s home the evening of the shooting, and a jury convicted him of murder, attempted murder and robbery.
As he sat in the courtroom hearing his life sentence read, Quindt broke down.
“I didn’t really know Riley; I had never met Riley in my life, but just as much as everyone else in this entire case, my life was touched just as much as theirs, but in a different way,” Quindt said. “And I send my condolences to them.”
Just before his conviction, Quindt said he faced a life-changing series of events in Sacramento County Jail that started with a nervous breakdown.
“I had gotten really sick,” he said.
Quindt was taken to UC Davis Medical Center for treatment, and there made an attempt on his own life, diving headfirst from a fourth-floor window of the hospital.
“All I could think was the system is going to kill me for something I didn’t do,” he said. “I’m shackled up and as they turn to open the door, I take off running toward the window.”
Quindt landed on his head and his shoulder and sustained critical injuries to his head, face, shoulder and stomach. But he survived.
Doctors stitched his stomach up and took him to Sacramento County Jail’s psychiatric ward for about a month, he said.
“They asked me what I was trying to do and I said I’m going to go to jail for the rest of my life,” he said. “I was losing my daughter - I lost everything – so I told them I’m not going to let you guys kill me first.”
During the next 15 months in jail, Quindt said he rubbed elbows with the “roughest of the roughest,” witnessing stabbings, beatings and isolated containment.
One day, he said, he received a letter from a family member of the murder victim. Quindt said the words in the letter helped him cope with his feelings of injustice, giving him vindication even if the judicial system hadn’t yet.
In May of 2000, according to the exoneration database, Mark Curry, the prosecutor who helped convict Quindt, followed an anonymous tip that would lead him to the three men who would later be convicted of murdering Haeling after the pleaded guilty.
Quindt said it was Curry who personally greeted him in a Sacramento County Jail holding cell and asked the guards to take his shackles off.
“Curry then turns to me and says, ‘I’m so sorry David, we have the guys who actually committed the crime.’”
Curry did not return calls from Fair Oaks Patch requesting comment.
Quindt said he cried for five minutes after hearing the news.
“I felt like I was a reborn child, like I had a second chance on life.”
Nevertheless, the ordeal would have a lasting effect. Quindt said he struggled with finding and keeping work while the dismissed murder charges remained on his record. When he was pulled over while driving, he said, police would approach him with guns drawn.
“It’s just really hard when my face is plastered all over the media saying I shot someone and even when you get out everyone in their mind still is going to think I had some involvement in it, and that’s been the hardest thing.”
Quindt said the charges were finally expunged from his record about a year-and-a-half ago and a search in the Sacramento County Court database includes three misdemeanor charges.
“The justice system is a very slow wheel,” Quindt said. “They don’t realize the damage and the repercussions that come from what has gone wrong.”
Today, Quindt gives workshops to law students and to other exonerated convicts on the failures that can exist in the American justice system, working with the Life After Exoneration Program and The Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal clinic.
Quindt was the first exonerated convict any of the students with The Innocence Project, Hawaii ever met, explained the Hawaiian project branch director Virginia E. Hench. Hench said Quindt’s case illustrates the problem of eyewitness misidentification, which she said is a factor in the majority of exonerations.
“Once you have someone in mind, your mind is going to tell you, ‘well, maybe that was the person,’” Hench said.
Quindt is generous in talking with others about his experience, even when it comes to some of the most intimate details, Hench said.
“It is kind of mind boggling. The amount of deprivation that is caused and then the devastation to families that is caused by mistaken eyewitness identification,” Hench said. “It’s not really about how long you spent in prison; even a short time is enough to indelibly mark your life and disrupt it.”
Quindt, meanwhile, says he just wants to prevent others from going through what he did.
“I want people to know that this can happen,” Quindt said. “If a person doesn’t stand up and do something about this, it’s going to continue to happen.”