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Jerome Morgan

Other Orleans County Cases
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On May 22, 1993, a gunman opened fire at a Sweet Sixteen party in a hotel ballroom in New Orleans, Louisiana. Seventeen-year-old Clarence Landry III was killed and two others, Rogers Mitchell and Hakim Shabazz, both 16, were wounded.

Police arrived and locked down the premises and took down the name, age and address of every youth inside. One of the youths, Kevin Johnson, told police he chased the gunman outside the building and followed until the gunman leaped over a fence and escaped.

In June 1993, police received a Crime Stoppers tip that the gunman may have been Jerome Morgan. The detective assembled a photographic lineup that included the photograph of the 17-year-old Morgan, who had been at the party.

Two witnesses to the shooting were shown the photo lineup containing Morgan’s photo. One witness did not identify anyone in the lineup as the gunman. The other, Kevin Johnson, put Morgan’s photo aside and said he “knew that guy from grade school and he was not the shooter.”

Police showed the same photographic line-up to Shabazz in August 1993. Police said Shabazz positively identified Morgan. An arrest warrant was issued for Morgan who was picked up in October 1993 and told police he was not involved. He was released two months later when the prosecution did not bring charges, apparently because Johnson had said Morgan was not involved while Shabazz said he was.

In early January 1994, when Landry’s mother, Sandra, learned that Morgan had been released, she brought Johnson—who had earlier pulled aside Morgan’s photograph saying it couldn’t be him—to the police station where he was re-interviewed by police. The police said that Johnson changed his mind and identified Morgan as the gunman.

Morgan was indicted for murder and arrested in April 1994. He went to trial in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court in September 1994.

The trial lasted one day.

The prosecution and defense presented the testimony of several different youths who presented different portraits of what occurred. Prosecution witnesses, including Johnson and Shabazz, said that Morgan became angry because Shabazz and other friends were getting a lot of attention for their dancing prowess and opened fire with a handgun. Johnson explained that when he first saw the photo line-up and said, “Oh, no, it can’t be,” referring to Morgan, he only meant that he was shocked that Morgan was the gunman.

The defense noted that Morgan was in the ballroom after the shooting and police recorded his identification, even though Johnson said he had chased the gunman out of the room and down the street.

The prosecution contended that police had not arrived at the ballroom until 30 minutes after the shooting, which was enough time for the gunman to return and attempt to blend into the crowd.

Morgan testified and denied that he was the gunman. Other friends also testified on his behalf that Morgan never left the room and identified someone named “Glenn Butler” as the gunman. Rogers Mitchell, one of the teens who was shot, testified that after the shooting, Morgan took off his t-shirt and attempted to wrap it around his bleeding leg.

On September 7, 1994, the jury convicted Morgan of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In 2001, after Morgan’s appeals had been rejected, Innocence Project New Orleans began reinvestigating his case. They discovered that the prosecution had failed to disclose a 911 call log that showed that the police had arrived at the ballroom and sealed it up within a few minutes after the shooting—not 30 minutes later—contradicting the prosecution’s argument that Morgan had managed to shoot the victims, flee on foot and return to the ballroom before police arrived.

In 2011, Shabazz recanted his trial testimony and told the Innocence Project New Orleans investigators that he had been pressured by police to identify Morgan as the gunman. The following year, Johnson recanted his identification of Morgan as well, also saying that he had been pressured by police to identify Morgan.

Innocence Project New Orleans filed an application for post-conviction relief on Morgan’s behalf and a hearing was held in 2013. Johnson testified that he and Morgan didn’t know each other and that even though he had dismissed Morgan’s picture from the first photographic lineup, police continued to pressure him.

Johnson described another photographic lineup at which a detective said, “Are you sure it’s not this guy right here?” and pointed to a photograph of Morgan. Johnson testified that he relented and identified Morgan because police told him that Morgan was the gunman.

Shabazz testified that he initially told a detective that he did not see the gunman’s face. The detective told him, “Jerome shot you,” and asked Shabazz to come to the police station. There, the detective pressured him to identify Morgan. “It’s almost like they painted this picture for me, that it was him,” Shabazz testified. “What I did, it just wasn’t right.”

In January 2014, Orleans Parish Judge Darryl Derbigny vacated Morgan’s conviction and granted him a new trial based on the recantations of Johnson and Shabazz and the failure of the prosecution to disclose the 911 call log. Morgan was released on bond in February 2014.

The prosecution appealed the decision. In January 2015, while the appeal was still pending, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro filed perjury charges against Johnson and Shabazz. Assistant District Attorney Matthew Kirkham said, “They either put an innocent man in jail for 20 years or they lied to get him out.”

As a result of these charges, attorneys for Johnson and Shabazz stated that they would refuse to testify at Morgan’s retrial for fear that their testimony would be used against them in the perjury prosecution. The prosecution said it intended to introduce the testimony they gave at Morgan’s trial back in 1994 because Shabazz and Johnson were unavailable to testify in person.

Morgan's legal team, led by attorneys Robert McDuff of Mississippi, Nandi Campbell of New Orleans, and Kristin Wenstrom and Emily Maw of Innocence Project New Orleans, argued that the 1994 testimony of Shabazz and Johnson should be excluded because the prosecution deliberately made them unavailable to testify at the retrial by filing perjury charges.

“The state clearly has a motive to prevent the witnesses (from) testifying, because it will gain a litigation advantage if the witnesses are treated as unavailable,” the defense attorneys claimed. “But for the state’s action, the witnesses would testify consistent with their 2013 testimony at a future trial, which would in no way implicate Mr. Morgan and will therefore leave the state with no case.”

In April 2016, a judge ruled that the transcript of the testimony of Johnson and Shabazz at the 1994 trial and the transcript of their testimony at the 2013 hearing on the motion for new trial would both be admitted in evidence at Morgan’s retrial.

Morgan’s lawyers appealed and in May 2016, the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed that ruling and barred the transcript from the 1994 trial from being read at Morgan’s retrial.

On May 27, 2016—with the retrial set to commence on June 13, 2016—the prosecution dismissed the charge.

On January 30, 2017, following a trial before State District Judge Ben Willard without a jury, Johnson and Shabazz were acquitted of the perjury charges.

In May 2017, Morgan filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Orleans Parish District Attorney's office.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 6/1/2016
Last Updated: 6/13/2017
State:Louisiana
County:Orleans
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1993
Convicted:1994
Exonerated:2016
Sentence:Life without parole
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:17
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No