NEW ORLEANS — Three men imprisoned since the 1990s for a fatal New Orleans drive-by shooting were ordered freed on Wednesday, their convictions vacated by a judge after prosecutors cited the involvement of two notoriously corrupt police officers in their case.
Kunta Gable and Leroy Nelson were 17 when they were arrested shortly after the Aug. 22, 1994, shooting death of Rondell Santinac at the Desire housing development in the south Louisiana city. Also arrested with them was Bernell Juluke, then 18.
The men were ordered released on Wednesday by a state judge who vacated their convictions, acting upon a joint motion by defense lawyers and District Attorney Jason Williams’ Civil Rights Division.
The motion described numerous problems with the original case. Among them, it said, the state failed to disclose evidence undermining the case against the men.
The motion also said the jury didn’t know that officers Len Davis and Sammie Williams — the first officers on the scene — were known to cover up the identity of perpetrators and manipulate evidence at murder scenes at the housing project to cover up for drug dealers they protected.
Davis was later convicted for arranging the death of a woman who filed a complaint against him in an unrelated matter and is facing a federal death sentence.
The motion also said the only witness to the shooting, Samuel Raiford, did not initially describe three suspects, adding, “the first time three perpetrators were mentioned by anyone is by Len Davis after the three defendants were pulled over.”
The teens were arrested a short time after the shooting but there were no signs of guns or shell casings in their car, according to the 24-page motion.
The prosecutor Williams said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon that there was extensive documented evidence of Davis’ illegal misconduct while operating “under color of law.”
“He engaged in illegal drug trafficking, framed individuals who got in his way, and even went so far as to order the murder of a private citizen who dared to report his systematic abuses,” Williams added.
Juluke’s attorney, Michael Admirand, said in an emailed statement after the release that they were grateful to the court, the prosecutor and others for their work “in correcting this grave injustice.”
“I am relieved that he has finally been vindicated, if disheartened that it took so long,” Admirand said of his client’s newfound freedom.
The attorney added that Juluke had maintained his innocence from the moment of his wrongful arrest.