Three men imprisoned for 28 years were wrongfully convicted of murder in a 1994 drive-by shooting, now linked to two former police officers who happened to arrive on the scene before the lone eyewitness even finished calling 911, a New Orleans court heard Wednesday. Bernell Juluke, Kunta Gable, and Leroy Nelson, who have since left prison, were teenagers at the time of 19-year-old Rondell Santinac's shooting death and always maintained their innocence. "It is clear to the state that this is a wrongful conviction," Emily Maw, chief of the civil rights division of the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office, said in court, per the Guardian, noting the first officers at the scene, Len Davis and Sammie Williams, were in league with drug dealers and covered up their crimes.
Davis—who was recorded ordering a hit on a female complainant who was subsequently killed, per the Guardian—is now on federal death row for multiple civil-rights abuses. During the sentencing phase of Davis' 1996 trial, Williams testified that Davis and other officers aided criminal associates known to have committed murders in 1994, "telling them when to strike and covering up the evidence," per NOLA. Maw noted these facts "came out only weeks after the defendants were tried in this case," per the Guardian. Juluke, Gable, and Nelson were convicted of second-degree murder shortly before Davis went to trial, though there was no forensic evidence tying them to the crime and seven alibi witnesses testified that they'd been 5 miles from the scene at the time.
They were arrested less than a half-hour after the shooting. Davis had immediately identified a suspect, using a name he associated with Juluke, whose brother is said to have posed a threat to Davis' scheme. Prosecutors also described inconsistencies in the testimony of eyewitness Samuel Raiford, who'd been accused of perjury in another prosecution. None of this was disclosed to the defense. Maw said "the injustice ... is further compounded" by the fact no one answered the men's calls to look into the case. A systematic review of cases linked to Davis only began last year. In ordering the men's immediate release, Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier called them "the real heroes" who "deserve the utmost apology" for having their lives "taken away." (Read more wrongful conviction stories.)