This Story About the California Innocence Project is Eye-Opening

Lori Reinauer/Northern California Innocence Project via AP

The Northern California Innocence Project is a group that tries to free wrongly convicted people from prison. But one of their most famous cases may be falling apart as they key witness who changed his story has revealed he was having a relationship with the lawyer working the case. He now believes she seduced him to gain his cooperation.


In his early 20s, Maurice Caldwell was drug dealer living in a San Francisco housing project who went by the name "Twan." Caldwell's best friend at the time was a kid he had grown up with named Marritte Funches who was three years younger. He took Funches under his wing and made him part of his operation.

In 1990 a woman named Judy Acosta was murdered by a shotgun blast in the neighborhood in a drug deal gone wrong. Caldwell was arrested and in 1991 he was convicted of the murder. Police did not go after Funches even though they suspected there were two people present at the shooting. Caldwell and Funches had a falling out and Funches fled the state. In Nevada, he murdered a cab driver during a robbery and was sentenced to life in prison. So both men ended up in prison around the same time in different states. Caldwell wanted Funches to admit to the shooting of Judy Acosta but Funches refused.

Many years later, in 2007, the Northern California Innocence Project took up Caldwell's case. The young lawyer assigned the case was Paige Kaneb. She made a visit to see Funches in prison and almost immediately a relationship began.

The pair began their love affair in phone calls and letters, some of which would include sexually explicit language from Funches...

While there is no specific rule barring a lawyer from having a relationship with a witness, if a court knew about Kaneb’s relationship with Funches, any testimony would almost certainly be discredited, said legal ethicist Richard Zitrin, who teaches at UC San Francisco Law...

In March 2010, a San Francisco Superior Court judge granted Caldwell a new trial, ruling he had had ineffective counsel in his first one. The judge, informed by Kaneb’s filings, wrote that Caldwell’s attorney had failed his client by neglecting to hire an investigator or do a thorough investigation, which should have included interviewing Funches and other witnesses the Innocence Project located with Funches’ help.


The DA decided not to retry Caldwell's case so in 2011 he walked free. The victory also helped Kaneb and became a major example the Innocence Project could point to as a success.

Caldwell quickly filed a civil suit against San Francisco on the grounds that, with his conviction invalidated, his long imprisonment represented a civil rights violation. As city lawyers sought to defend the D.A.’s handling of the case, they uncovered inconsistencies in the stories of witnesses collected by the Innocence Project. After reinterviewing several witnesses, the city attorneys accused Kaneb in a filing of “manipulating the facts.” 

Despite this, in 2021 the city reached a settlement with Caldwell, agreeing to pay him $8 million dollars. 

But in retrospect, Funches thinks Kaneb's affair with him was all about getting he to admit guilt. According to him, Caldwell was actually guilty in the 1990 murder.

Now, though, Funches says he lied about Caldwell’s innocence. What’s more, he says Kaneb has known about his lie but continues to represent the case publicly as an example of the truth triumphing in the end.

“In 1990, myself and Maurice Caldwell shot two people,” Funches, 53, told The Standard  from his prison cell in Colorado, where he is serving life for an unrelated murder. 

Funches says he told Kaneb that Caldwell was guilty though he admits he wasn't very direct about it. He says he told her "Maurice isn’t everything you think he is." He now believes Kaneb used him to free Caldwell. "It was the art of seduction at its finest. All to get me to finally help Mr. Caldwell," he told the SF Standard.


Kaneb is now the Northern California Innocence Project’s Legal Director. The group continues to defend her work on the case. Kaneb herself refused to comment on the story.

Note: The photo above is from another California Innocence Project case but that appears to be Paige Kenab in the center.

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