Another Orleans Parish man freed due to prosecutor misconduct

Last year, I wrote a long piece about the the decades-long problem of prosecutorial misconduct in the Orleans Parish, Louisiana DA’s office —mostly stemming from longtime (now retired) DA Harry Connick, Sr., but also in the regimes that followed him. More significantly, the misconduct has continued since Thompson v. Connick, the U.S. Supreme Court that exempted Orleans Parish from liability, despite that long history. (The Court wasn’t convinced there was a pattern, despite the fact that 9 of the 36 men the office sent to death row later had their convictions overturned due to misconduct.)

More significantly still, since that decision, the Louisiana Bar still has yet to start disciplining wayward prosecutors on anything approaching a consistent basis — certainly not to a degree to serve as a deterrent. That matters because in his opinion in Thompson, Justice Clarence Thomas pointed to professional sanction as a sufficient method of handling misconduct.

I bring all of this up because another longtime prisoner has been set free due to misconduct from Connick’s office.

A man serving life in prison for a 1979 murder was set free Monday after Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro acknowledged “intentional prosecutorial misconduct” in his case and false testimony from a New Orleans police detective who helped convict him.

Cannizzaro and attorneys with Innocence Project New Orleans, the nonprofit law firm, are scheduled to announce Reginald Adams’ release at an 11:30 a.m. news conference. Defense attorneys and prosecutors filed a joint motion asking Judge Laurie White to vacate his conviction, which she granted Monday morning. “You’re free to go,” White told Adams, who has been behind bars for 34 years.

“I will not tolerate intentional misconduct on the part of police or prosecutors,” Cannizzaro said in a statement, apologizing to Adams on behalf of the District Attorney’s Office for depriving him of a fair trial. “Their handling of this case was shameful. Not only did their intentional acts harm Reginald Adams, who was wrongfully incarcerated for more than three decades, but also it denied this community any opportunity to hold the real perpetrator criminally responsible for this violent crime.”

Among all the recent death penalty debate, you’ll sometimes hear the argument that serving several decades in prison for a crime you didn’t commit is a punishment worse than death. Just guessing here, but I’ll bet Reginald Adams disagrees.

Incidentally, Cannizzaro himself is no Harry Connick, but his office still has a long way to go.

(Via the Open File.)

Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He is the author of the book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces."
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