June Patti had a hunger to be heard.

A large woman with scarlet-dyed hair and a loud, raspy voice, Patti was a known drug addict who presented herself as a paralegal. Raised in the Redondo Beach area, she moved to northwest Washington state in the 1990s and soon became a local fixture, quick to phone law enforcement. One year she called 800 times, recalled Skagit County Sheriff Will Reichardt.

For a decade, Patti was involved in more than 2,000 police calls or cases in the county. She was accused of theft, trespassing, fraud and harassment in some, but many incidents involved her complaints and tips about other people.

A 52-year-old former public defender with a straightforward demeanor, O'Connor leads Innocence Matters — a tiny Torrance-based nonprofit devoted to overturning and preventing wrongful convictions.

She came across Mellen's name while researching a different case and the two met at a state prison in Chowchilla. The prisoner's buoyancy caught O'Connor off-guard.

"We expect different from people who have been convicted," O'Connor said. "Just trying to live her life with joy — I would be consumed with anger and living in my head."