In October 1980, Douglas Frierson was found murdered in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana. Upon hearing of the murder, Gerald Burge called the sheriff’s office to tell them Frierson had been with him the night before and had left his house at about midnight. Detective Gary Hale completed the initial investigation of the murder and interviewed Frierson’s family and friends. Frierson’s brother stated that he saw Burge and Joe Pearson in the car with Frierson. Although the victim’s mother and sister did not initially place Frierson with Burge after midnight, the two changed their statements. Pearson eventually confessed to the murder and implicated Burge, testifying at his trial in exchange for a reduced charge. At Burge’s trial, Frierson’s mother testified that she had seen Burge pick up Frierson shortly before the murder and that Burge told her and her daughter details of the murder that only the perpetrator could know. Her daughter corroborated her testimony.
Burge was convicted of second-degree murder at a jury trial in 1986 and sentenced to life in prison. Immediately after Burge’s conviction, the detective who completed the investigation in the case questioned Hale, who was by then married to Frierson’s sister, about a tape of an interview with Burge that was missing. Hale revealed that he had kept the tape, as well as other notes about the case, in the trunk of his car, and had not turned them over to the prosecution or the defense. These notes included the initial statement by the victim’s mother that she had not seen who picked up her son that night, as well as statements by Pearson’s girlfriend and another man stating that Pearson had confessed to the murder. Hale also told the detective that he persuaded Frierson’s sister, who was now his wife, as well as Frierson’s mother, to lie on the stand. Based on this new evidence, Burge’s attorneys moved for a new trial, a motion that was granted based on the prosecution’s failure to turn over exculpatory evidence. Burge was retried in 1992 and a jury acquitted him of all charges.
Burge subsequently filed a federal wrongful conviction lawsuit and a jury awarded him $4.3 million in damages. The judgment was set aside on appeal. The state of Louisiana awarded him $150,000 in compensation.
- Stephanie Denzel