In the early morning of October 31, 1975, 15 year-old Eliot Porter was shot and killed in the B.W. Cooper Housing Project in New Orleans, Louisiana. Twenty-year-old Gregory Bright and seventeen-year-old Earl Truvia, Jr. became suspects after a known drug addict, Sheila Caston, implicated them in the crime in exchange for reward money.
Caston – who used a false name on the witness stand to hide her history of mental illness and criminal behavior – provided the only evidence that implicated Bright and Truvia in the murder. Defense lawyers for Bright and Truvia failed to impeach Caston’s testimony with evidence from the coroner’s report –which indicated that the death occurred at a different time than she testified to – and failed to visit the scene of the crime, which would have revealed that Caston could not have seen the shooting. The jury found each defendant guilty of second degree murder. In July, 1976, the judge in Orleans Parish sentenced both Bright and Truvia to life in prison without parole.
In 2001, the New Orleans Innocence Project took up their case. The Innocence Project showed that prosecutors had withheld critical exculpatory evidence from defense counsel: a police report naming other suspects in the crime, and information that Caston was a paranoid schizophrenic who had been in a mental hospital the day before she testified at Bright and Truvia’s trial. On the basis of this new evidence, the Supreme Court of Louisiana vacated the convictions in February, 2002, and granted Bright and Truvia new trials. On June 23, 2003, the Orleans Parish District Attorney dismissed all charges against Bright and Truvia, and said that the behavior of the former District Attorney’s office “inexcusable.” The next day, after 27 years in prison, Bright and Truvia were released. Each was given a ten dollar check from the State and a trash bag filled with his belongings.
Bright and Truvia filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking damages for their wrongful convictions. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2012.