Sullivan Walter, a Black man wrongfully convicted for a New Orleans rape when he was just a teenager, was ordered freed Thursday (August 25) after serving more than 36 years in prison.
According to the Associated Press, a judge threw out his conviction as Walter, now 53, used a handkerchief to wipe away tears as a state district judge formally vacated his conviction for a home invasion-rape.
Judge Darryl Derbigny relayed his anger that blood and semen evidence that would likely have cleared Walter, who was 17 at the time of the alleged crime, never made it to the jury.
“To say this was unconscionable is an understatement,” Derbigny told Walter, the AP reports.
After appearing in court in New Orleans, Walter was driven to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel, where he was officially released.
When he was 17, Walter was arrested in connection with the New Orleans rape. The alleged rapist entered the home of the victim, labeled as L.S. in the record, in May 1986. He then held a knife to her throat and threatened to harm her 8-year-old son, who was asleep during the incident.
Emily Maw, a lawyer with Williams’ office, suggested in court that there were reasons to believe the victim had mistakenly identified Walter.
“There were some red flags that the eyewitness testimony could well have been unreliable,” Maw told the judge.
“In this case, L.S. was being asked to make a cross-racial identification of someone who at all the times that she could observe him was either masked, in an unlit room at night, and/or threatening her not to look at him,” the motion, which indicated “red flags” had been spelled out in a joint filing ahead of Thursday’s hearing reads. “In addition, L.S. was not shown a photo array containing Mr. Walter until over six weeks after the crime.”
Additionally, no evidence was presented about Walter’s blood characterics that did not match semen collected from the victim after the rape occurred. The filing also recounts numerous errors made by Walter’s previous legal team, including a falling to point out conflicting statements by a cop who worked on the case and missteps during the appeal process regarding the forensic evidence.
Lawyers at the hearing say the victim in the case is now deceased. Richard Davis, Innocence Project New Orleans’ Legal Director, said Walter’s race was a factor in the wrongful conviction.