Louisiana man wrongly convicted of rape as teenager freed 36 years later
Sullivan Walter, now 53, was “exonerated after 36 years, 1 month and 30 days incarceration for a rape he did not commit,” Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO) said in an Instagram post.
Walter was 17 when he was arrested, but « has been prosecuted as an adult, » the IPNO said in a press release on Thursday. “This is the longest known wrongful incarceration of a minor in Louisiana history and the fifth longest in United States history,” he added in his message on the social networks.
In September 1986, Walter was charged with trespassing and rape in New Orleans, pursuant to a motion to vacate his conviction.
According to court documents, a woman identified as « LS » was taking a shower when she saw a man in her home who was covering his lower face with a washcloth and wearing a backwards baseball cap. The man pulled a shirt over her face and walked her into an « empty, unlit room » at knifepoint and raped her.
The woman told police that the man covered his face several times during the crime and that she thought she could identify him. She gave descriptions to investigators and worked with a police cartoonist to make a composite drawing, according to court documents.
About a month and a half after the rape, Walter was arrested for simple burglary and when the police thought he looked like the man described by LS, a series of photos were shown to LS and they identified Walter as the rapist, according to court documents. Walter wore a blue baseball cap in the photo, the same color worn by the man who raped her.
Walter was arrested for the rape and his jury trial lasted one day, according to court documents.
Walter was the subject of numerous appeals, but from 1997 to October 2021, Walter had no legal assistance, according to court documents.
After taking on Walter’s case in October 2021, IPNO attorneys « found that although serological testing in the 1980s concluded that Mr. Walter was not the perpetrator, the jury who convicted Mr. Walter did not know, » the organization said.
« Walter’s trial attorney did not obtain this evidence from witnesses and the officer’s analyst misrepresented his test results, » according to the IPNO post.
The IPNO presented its findings to the Civil Rights Division (CRD) of the Orleans Parish Attorney’s Office and together the IPNO and CRD decided to overturn Walter’s conviction, according to the statement from the organization.
« Expert report…describes problems with testing in Mr. Walter’s case and ‘dishonest’ police testimony at best. Report also finds ‘systematic flaws’ in NOPD serological testing and the coroner’s office in the 1980s and early 1990s. and suggests « a full review of every case in Orleans Parish in which ABO/secretor test results and testimony may have figured in the conviction of ‘one accused,’ the IPNO post added.
In the motion to quash, Walter’s attorneys and the Orleans Parish attorney raised concerns about the accuracy of the eyewitness identification of LS because she « was asked to make an identification interracial from someone who, at all times she could observe him, was either masked, in an unlit room at night, and/or threatening her not to look at him. »
« Under no circumstances should the district attorney’s consent in this case be construed to infer that the victim was dishonest in his identification or minimize the very real trauma that he and his family suffered as a result of his « Rather, it must be recognized that the tragedy of his assault is, in fact, magnified by the fact that the real perpetrator was not apprehended and may have victimized others, » the petition said. to quash Walter’s conviction.
« It’s not just about individuals and their choices, but the systems that enable them, » said Walter’s attorney, IPNO’s chief legal officer, Richard Davis.
Walter’s convictions for aggravated burglary, two counts of aggravated nature felony and one count of repeat offender were also overturned, according to court documents.
LS has since died and her family has been told about the evidentiary issues in the case and the need to overturn Walter’s conviction, according to court documents.
“The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office is committed to confronting and addressing past harms inflicted by the criminal justice system as part of its mission to create a safer community for all of our citizens. account of past sins or past wrongs must include an impartial and open review of cases in which evidence that was not heard by the jury suggests that a person who was convicted was not the person who committed the crime, » Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams told CNN in a statement.
“Sullivan Walter was convicted by a previous administration of this office despite the fact that serological tests performed by state law enforcement at the time showed he could not be the person who committed the rape for which he was convicted in 1986. After Mr. Walter’s trial, a state official – faced with a serological exclusion indicating that the wrong man had been prosecuted – changed his earlier sworn testimony to s ensure that Mr. Walter, 17, remains behind bars, » Williams said.
« No such behavior would ever be tolerated in my administration and we could not support or defend any conviction obtained or maintained by such methods. Mr. Walter suffered a terrible injustice and, although this office promptly rectified it when it has been brought to our attention, it is a tragedy that it has taken this long for the justice system to bring it to our attention. We work every day to prevent such preventable tragedies from happening again, » added Williams.