Friday, May 07, 2010

Meet the Exonerated: Louisiana's Death Row Part Four

Below: From Daniel Bolick's exhibition on exonerated prisoners, "Resurrected" at the Westmoreland Museum of Amer Art.

Curtis Kyles (left) was tried five times for the murder of Delores Dee Dye in 1984.

Curtis Kyles was 24 when he was framed by the actual killer of a 1984 Orleans Parish murder. The true assailant had been seen in the victim's car. He then contacted police telling them that Curtis had sold him the car. At Curtis's initial trial, the prosecution withheld evidence from the defense that could have proven Curtis's innocence, including eyewitness accounts. The prosecution also withheld information about the criminal record of the informant/murderer. Curtis's first trial ended in a hung jury after four hours. At his second trial in 1984, he was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. A year and a half after Curtis was convicted, the real killer was himself murdered by his own brother-in-law, but not before he had confessed to numerous friends that he had framed Curtis. In 1995, 11 years after Curtis's conviction and death sentence, his case was overturned by U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court issued a stinging rebuke to the practices of the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office, and its decision has since helped wrongly convicted prisoners everywhere to more easily bring evidence before the courts.

Even after the Supreme Court threw out Curtis's conviction, the case was remanded for a third trial, which ended in a hung jury, as did fourth and fifth trials. In the end, the District Attorney announced that he would drop all charges against Mr. Kyles who was set free, having once come within 30 hours of scheduled execution. Curtis was wrongly imprisoned for 14 years - 11 on death row - before he was finally released in 1998.

Desire Street: A True Story of Death and Deliverance in New Orleans is the book Jed Horne wrote chronicling the unraveling of the case against Curtis Kyles.


Johnny Ross, who became the nation’s youngest death row inmate at age 16, was convicted of raping a white woman in Louisiana in 1975, and sentenced to death after his 90-minute trial. Ross met with his court appointed attorney one time prior to trial. The prosecution's claim was that Ross had signed a confession after the victim had identified him. Ross maintained that he had signed a blank piece of paper after his interrogators beat him.

Convinced Ross did not receive a fair trial, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Inc. (SPLC) sought a new trial for Ross. Their investigations turned up evidence that the Ross' blood type was not the same as the type in the semen found in the victim. Based on this new evidence, the New Orleans DA agreed to drop charges and Ross was released from prison in 1981. (State v. Ross, 343 So.2d 722 (La. 1977)).

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