On March 2, 1995, Michael Gerardi, of Slidell, Louisiana, was fatally shot in the face during a robbery as he and his date, Connie Babin, left the Port of Call restaurant on Esplanade Avenue in the French Quarter of New Orleans. It was their first date.
Babin gave police a sketchy description of the perpetrator, saying she did not get a good look him and would probably be unable to identify him. She was not wearing her contact lenses or her glasses, she said, and could only see patterns and shapes.
Sixteen-year-old Shareef Cousin was arrested for the crime on March 28, 1995, after he was implicated by 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.
At the time, police said Cousin was part of a group of teenagers who were committing robberies in New Orleans. Cousin also was charged with two other robberies and ultimately pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
In January 1996, Cousin went on trial. Babin identified him as the killer. “I will never forget that face,” she told the jury.
Cousin’s former friend, James Rowell, testified that he had only implicated Cousin under coercion from the police. He said he had been promised a 15-year sentence for a series of robberies if he said that Cousin had admitted killing Gerardi.
The defense presented witnesses who testified that Cousin had played in a taped basketball game in the Treme section of New Orleans and was being driven home by his coach at the time the crime was committed.
On January 26, 1996, a jury convicted Cousin of murder.
After the trial, Cousin’s defense lawyers moved for a new trial, saying that an anonymous source had provided them with information that prosecutions had failed to turn over prior to trial—that Babin had been less than positive in her identification. She told police, “I don’t know, it was dark and I did not have my contacts or glasses, so I’m coming at this at a disadvantage.”
Immediately after the shooting, New Orleans police officer Bruce Glaudi interviewed Babin and then wrote a report saying that Babin “stated she did not get a good look…. probably could not identify” anyone.
The motion for new trial was denied. On July 2, 1996, Cousin was sentenced to death.
On April 14, 1998, the Supreme Court of Louisiana reversed Cousin’s conviction and ordered a new trial, finding that prosecutors had improperly questioned witnesses, and improperly withheld Babin’s statement that she was unable to see the shooter clearly and probably could not identify him.
Cousin was one of the youngest people sentenced to death in the United States at the time and attracted the support of Bianca Jagger, a prominent death penalty opponent. On January 8, 1999, as Jagger prepared to travel to New Orleans to lobby for dismissal, Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry Connick Sr. dismissed the case.
At the time, Cousin remained in prison in Louisiana serving a 20-year prison term he received for the robberies.
After the charges were dropped, members of Cousin’s family filed a complaint with the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board and in 2005, the prosecutor, Roger Jordan, was suspended for three months, although the term was waived providing he did not commit another ethics breach within a year.
A wrongful conviction lawsuit was filed on Cousin’s behalf, but the case was dismissed in 2001.
Cousin was paroled in 2005.
He later went to work for the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta. In 2008, he was charged with using the social security number, birth date and name of his boss, Stephen Bright, to obtain credit cards and used them to spend $42,000.
Cousin, who was living in Stone Mountain, Georgia, pleaded guilty in Fulton County Circuit Court and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
- Karen Oprea