A New Orleans man has been freed from prison 39 years after he was arrested for a crime he says he did not commit.
Raymond Flanks, 59, was arrested in 1983 for the murder and robbery of Martin Carnesi. After two trials, Flanks was found guilty, but legal advocates found out nearly four decades later that detectives fabricated evidence in the case. His conviction was overturned on Nov. 17 after prosecutors and defense attorneys pushed for his exoneration.
“Even though it was delayed justice, it was justice,” Flanks told reporters.
Carnesi’s widow, Faye Carnesi, told detectives and the grand jury that he was killed by a man in his late 20s with a white blemish on his face and driving an old blue car on Dec. 17, 1983, according to the Innocence Project New Orleans.
Flanks, then 20, was arrested after fleeing the scene of a robbery in a new blue car five days later. Investigators showed the victim’s wife Flanks’ photo, and she pointed out that he did not have the noticeable blemish.
Still, New Orleans Parish detective John Dillmann insisted he was the suspect, according to Innocence Project lawyers. Faye Carnesi, who is now deceased, described the suspect differently at the trial.
Flanks’ brother testified that he was at home the night of the murder, nola.com reports.
However, police said a weapon found on Flanks during his arrest was connected to the murder. His first trial ended with a deadlocked decision. He was found guilty after his second trial, even though a federal review of the evidence found that the weapon was not used in Carnesi’s murder.
Innocence Project lawyers found that the lead prosecutor James “Jim” Williams told the court that there was no evidence that would prove Flanks’ innocence.
However, the detective “altered the age of the perpetrator, age of the perpetrator’s car, appearance of the perpetrator’s gun and appearance of the perpetrator’s mustache to fit the State’s case,” court documents reportedly say.
Flanks’ attorneys also said Dillmann testified that the victim’s wife said the suspect’s only noticeable facial feature was a mustache, and he didn’t do anything to influence her identification.
Orleans Parish district attorney Jason Williams’ office and Innocence Project lawyers agreed that the conflicting grand jury testimony and police reports could have been used to clear Flanks when he was convicted in 1985.
“You will be freed today from this building,” criminal district judge Rhonda Goode-Douglas told Flanks Thursday. “You do not have to go back to Angola.”
Dillmann told nola.com that he didn’t remember the case, but said Flanks’ exoneration is part of an aggressive crusade by the prosecutors’ civil rights division.
“Everybody from the ’70s on, they’re taking to task,” he said. “How can they let the guy go without even a hearing or anybody’s side of the story? That’s what I don’t understand. How can they just say, ‘Well, he’s saying this, she’s dead, and that doesn’t match up with what was said in the grand jury, so we can put the guy out of jail without even asking?'”
Flanks’ lawyers point out that Dillmann and the lead prosecutor both have been linked to three other wrongful convictions each.
Jim Williams was involved in the 1985 conviction of John Thompson, who spent 14 years on death row for a murder and robbery that he did not commit. Dillmann was the lead detective in the case of Curtis Kyles, who also spent 14 years on death row for murder until his conviction was overturned.
The Innocent Project said Orleans Parish has the nation’s highest known wrongful conviction rate. Over 70 percent of those cases involve withheld evidence and most involve Black people, the Innonence Project added.
However, Carnesi’s daughter told FOX 10 that she does not believe that her mother was mistaken, which lawyers attribute to cross-racial identification flaws.
“I’m still as angry as the day it happened, Debra Carnesi Gonzales