A Black Louisiana man who was wrongfully convicted of rape more than 36 years ago has been exonerated and is now a free man. 53-year-old Sullivan Walter was arrested and prosecuted as an adult at the age of 17 in a one-day trial. The victim said her rapist entered her home, held a knife to her throat, and threatened to harm her eight-year-old son, who remained asleep through the entire incident. Blood and semen evidence that could have proven Walter innocent never made it to the jury. Judge Darryl Derbigny was visibly angry at this mistake when vacating Walter’s sentence in court.
“To say this was unconscionable is an understatement,” Derbigny told Water.
District Attorney Jason Williams and Emily Maw, an attorney with Williams’ office, partnered with defense attorneys working with Innocence Project New Orleans, to have the conviction vacated. Maw says there was reason to believe the victim, who is now deceased, but there was also room for doubt.
“There were some red flags that the eyewitness testimony could well have been unreliable,” Maw told Derbigny.
She’s referring to the motion that was filed stating “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. In addition, L.S. was not shown a photo array containing Mr. Walter until over six weeks after the crime.” The motion also points out numerous errors Walter’s previous attorneys made, including failing to point out conflicting statements by a police officer who worked the case.
Walter used a handkerchief to wipe away the tears as the judge officially vacated his conviction and declared him a free man.
“I’m just ready to live,” Walter says. “I just want to live an honest, free life.”