At about 10:45 p.m. on July 27, 1998, two New Orleans police officers arrested 38-year-old Eddie Triplett on a charge of possession of cocaine.
Triplett, who had prior convictions for burglary, possession of cocaine and distribution of cocaine, went on trial before a jury in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court on October 21, 1998.
The two officers, Jeffrey Keating and Edgar Staehle, testified that they saw Triplett on a bicycle peering into a parked car. When they approached, they said they saw him put a plastic bag into his mouth. The officers said that after they arrested Triplett, they told him to spit out the bag, which he did. They testified that the bag contained cocaine.
Triplett testified that he was with another man, whose name he did not exactly recall. Triplett told the jury that after both were arrested, he saw the other man drop a plastic bag to the ground.
Triplett testified that after the officers ran a computer check on both of them and discovered that he had prior convictions, they arrested him and released the other man. Triplett denied that the cocaine was his and testified that he believed the other man was named Michael McClay.
The officers denied that there was another person with Triplett.
On October 22, 1998, the jury convicted Triplett. Because he was a fourth time offender, Triplett was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Triplett’s conviction was upheld on appeal and several petitions for a state writ of habeas corpus were denied. With earnings saved from his prison job that paid him 16 cents an hour, Triplett sought and obtained the prosecution’s file.
In 2004, Triplett filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus alleging that he and his trial attorney had not been supplied with the full police report.
The full report contained a narrative that described how the officers stopped Triplett and another man and recovered a plastic bag of cocaine. The other man was identified as Michael Cola.
In September 2011, U.S. District Court Judge Helen “Ginger” Berrigan granted Triplett’s petition, set aside his conviction and ordered a new trial.
“In short, the testimony given by officers Keating and Staehle at trial mirrored the police report in all aspects, except the crucial one—the contemporaneous police report named Michael Cola as the person detained, not Eddie Triplett,” the judge ruled.
In November 2011, the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office dismissed the case and Triplett was released.
– Maurice Possley