DNA, undisclosed payments cited as verdict reversal sought
NEW ORLEANS — Criminal justice advocates are asking a New Orleans court to throw out a man’s 2010 murder conviction, saying DNA evidence indicates someone else committed the crime and prosecutors withheld information about financial help provided to witnesses.
The Monday filing by Innocence Project New Orleans comes in the case of Kaleigh Smith, convicted of second-degree murder in an October 2007 fatal shooting. The conviction carries a mandatory life sentence.
The Innocence Project New Orleans says recent DNA testing shows that a T-shirt worn by the victim of the 2007 slaying has the victim’s DNA and that of a second man. The second person’s DNA is not from Smith, according to the Innocence Project.
The organization also says information from the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office — obtained through a lawsuit seeking public records — shows defense attorneys were not kept apprised of financial benefits provided to witnesses in the case.
“In this case, the State’s crucial witness received at least $4,500 worth of undisclosed benefits,” Innocence Project New Orleans said. The assistance was from the Victim-Witness Assistance Division of the district attorney’s office. The Innocence Project does not accuse the office of improper spending but says that, by law, such assistance must be disclosed.
Also, police and prosecutors have documents indicating someone other than Smith had the motive and opportunity to commit the crime, the organization said in a news release.
Innocence Project New Orleans lawyers also say Smith’s case should be reviewed because his conviction by a jury was not unanimous, a practice since ruled unconstitutional. The question for the court to decide is whether the Supreme Court ruling striking the practice applies retroactively in Smith’s case.
“We have only just received today’s court filing and have not had the opportunity to examine its contents,” Ken Daley, spokesman for District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said in an emailed statement. Daley said the claims made by the Innocence Project “are unproven assertions. As with any motion for post-conviction relief, we will examine such claims carefully and respond in the proper venue of court.”