Shareef Cousin

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Shareef Cousin
Born 1979 (age 37–38)[1]
Known for Being wrongfully convicted of the murder of Michael Gerardi
Home town New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.

Shareef Cousin (born 1979) is an American man who was wrongfully convicted of the murder of Michael Gerardi in 1996.[2] At 16, he became one of the youngest condemned convicts to be put on death row in the United States.[3]

Cousin was convicted almost solely on the basis of one eyewitness identification provided by the date of the victim. No physical evidence linked him to the crime scene. A number of other witnesses insisted he had been playing in a youth league basketball game at the time of the murder. A video of the game was also presented.[4]

A number of instances of prosecutorial misconduct were discovered in the case. The primary eyewitness initially told police she couldn't identify the shooter as she wasn't wearing her glasses, but this statement was not disclosed to the defense. Another prosecution witness testified that he was coerced to falsely implicate Cousin in exchange for a reduced sentence on other charges. Cousin's conviction and death sentence was eventually overturned after it was found that evidence was mishandled and the DA decided not to pursue the case any further.[5]

The case of Shareef Cousin is frequently cited as an example of the unreliable nature of eyewitness testimony.[4][6]

Crime[edit]

On March 2, 1995, Michael Gerardi took a woman named Connie Babin on their first date to the Port of Call restaurant in the French Quarter of New Orleans. After dinner, the couple left the restaurant to return to Gerardi's vehicle parked around the corner. Three black teenage males approached the vehicle. Gerardi yelled at his date to run away, which she did. As she was running, she turned around to see one of the teens shoot Gerardi in the face.[7]

Investigation[edit]

On March 28, 1995, 16-year-old Shareef Cousin was arrested. He had been named by James Rowell, a former friend who was seeking leniency for charges he faced arising from several robberies. Police put Cousin in a line-up and Babin picked him out.[5][6]

Trial[edit]

Babin testified at trial that she was “absolutely positive” that she had seen Cousin commit the murder.[3] James Rowell was also called to testify against Cousin. Rowell was expected to testify for the prosecution that Cousin had bragged about the murder to him. However, when Rowell took the stand, he denied having the conversation with Cousin and instead told the jury that he was only saying what his attorney and the district attorney told him to say, alleging they threatened him with a long jail sentence if he didn't give them Shareef. Rowell also alleged that the prosecutors told him to lie about whether or not he had a deal, noting they scheduled his own hearing so it wouldn't take place until after Cousin's trial so the deal would not be known by the defense.[7]

In response, the prosecution called the lawyer and a police detective who was present for Rowell's deposition. Those witnesses testified to what Rowell had previously said.[7]

Shareef's defense team presented witnesses who testified that Cousin had played in a basketball game in another part of the city and was being driven home by his coach at the time the crime was committed.[5] There was also video footage of Cousin playing in a basketball game during the time of the murder.[8] Prosecutors argued that the date and time stamp could possibly be inaccurate if it was set incorrectly.[9]

Detective Anthony Small also listed two additional witnesses who supposedly positively identified Cousin as the murderer, but were never called to testify. It later came to light that the detective lied about having additional witnesses to get the warrant.[10][11]

Cousin was convicted and sentenced to death.[5]

Misconduct allegations and appeal[edit]

After the trial, the defense uncovered a number of instances of misconduct by the prosecution. Among them was statement made by Connie Babin on the night of the murder where she explained to police that she did not get a good look at the gunman or his accomplices because of the distance and would not be able to identify him. She also stated that she was not wearing her glasses on the night of the murder and could see only patterns and shapes. Other discrepancies also popped up: She told police the shooter was "slightly shorter" than Gerardi; Cousin is 4 in. taller than the victim. The prosecutors did not disclose these statements to the defense. This information was crucial to the defense, given her identification of Cousin was the only evidence linking him to the murder.[7][12] The statement was sent to them by an anonymous source.[3][13]

Other witness statements were also not disclosed to the defense. A local bird watcher witnessed the crime through his binoculars and took down a license plate number. He reported the tip through the Crime Stoppers tip line.[9]

Evidence was also discovered that the prosecution may have taken steps to prevent a number of defense witnesses from testifying. Four witnesses the defense planned to call were unable to be located during the trial. It was later discovered that the prosecution instructed them to proceed to the district attorney's office and remain there for the duration of the trial. The location of those witnesses was not disclosed to Cousin or his attorney.[6][12] Upon questioning, the prosecutor explained that he had taken them there for their own comfort as it was hot outside. Time magazine pointed out that the trial took place during one of the coldest Januarys in New Orleans history.[2][3]

Cousin filed an appeal on the basis of the Brady violations, which is the failure to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense. He also listed in his appeal the improper use of the testimony of Rowell's attorney and the police officer. While the use of witnesses to impeach witness testimony is legal, it can only be used to show the credibility of the witness. The prosecutors in this case used their memory of Rowell's earlier statements to attempt to prove Shareef's guilt. Their statements were determined to be hearsay evidence and therefore should not have been allowed. The fact that the now unreliable statements by Rowell and Babin were the only evidence against Cousin led to the verdict being overturned. In 1998, the Louisiana Supreme Court ordered a new trial on the grounds that evidence was mishandled and improperly used. The supreme court referred to it as "a flagrant misuse" of evidence.[7][12] A few months later, Harry Connick Sr., the DA at the time, decided to drop the case citing lack of evidence to pursue it any further.[6][14][15]

Disciplinary Board[edit]

In June 2005, prosecutor Roger Jordan was disciplined by the Louisiana Supreme Court for his misconduct in Cousin's case.[13] He received a three-month suspended sentence.[5]

It was later discovered that one of the homicide detectives had himself called the Crime Stoppers tip line to report Cousin after Cousin became a suspect, which prompted his arrest. He then collected the reward.[16]

Civil suit[edit]

Cousin filed a civil suit against a number of employees of the police department and district attorney's office. He alleged a number of violations of his civil rights. He alleged that the prosecution withheld a number of exculpatory statements, coerced and intimited Rowell, and took steps to prevent his own defense witnesses from testifying on his behalf by illegally detaining them. The courts ruled against him on the basis that prosecutors have absolute immunity.[12]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Shareef Cousin". Bluhm legal clinic: meet the exonerees. Northwestern Law School. Retrieved 25 June 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Amnesty International, Canada
  3. ^ a b c d Christopher John Farley and James Willwerth, "Dead Teen Walking," TIME Magazine, Monday, Jan. 19, 1998.
  4. ^ a b Zorn, Eric (May 8, 2001). "Truth is blurred by witnesses in Death Row cases". Chicago Tribune. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "Shareef Cousin". The National Registry of Exonerations. Retrieved 22 June 2014.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Cousin" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  6. ^ a b c d Balko, Radley (08/01/2013). "The Untouchables: America's Misbehaving Prosecutors, And The System That Protects Them". Huffington Post.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  7. ^ a b c d e "State of Louisiana V. Shareef Cousin" (PDF). Supreme Court of Louisiana. 
  8. ^ Getting Off Death Row, NPR, March 26, 2007 
  9. ^ a b Smith, Clive Stafford (November 8, 2012). The Injustice System: A Murder in Miami and a Trial Gone Wrong. Viking Adult. ISBN 0670023701. 
  10. ^ "Jordan W. Jordan Attorney Disciplinary Proceedings" (PDF). Supreme Court of Louisiana. 2005-06-29. 
  11. ^ "Shareef Cousin". Innocence Project. 
  12. ^ a b c d "Shareef COUSIN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Anthony SMALL, et al., Defendants, Byron Berry, Roger Jordan, and Harry Connick, Individually and in His Capacity as District Attorney for Orleans Parish, Defendants-Appellees". United States Court of Appeals,Fifth Circuit. March 24, 2003. 
  13. ^ a b disciplinary, August 30, 2004, retrieved January 3, 2012 
  14. ^ National News Briefs; No Retrial for Man Who Was on Death Row, January 10, 1999, retrieved January 3, 2012 
  15. ^ "DA Drops Charges Against Teen Accused in French Quarter Killing". Daily News. January 8, 1999. Retrieved 3 January 2012. 
  16. ^ Stafford Smith, Clive (Nov 8, 2012). The Injustice System: A Murder in Miami and a Trial Gone Wrong. Viking Adult. ISBN 0670023701. 

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