On October 17, 1980, 24-year-old Douglas Frierson was found murdered in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana.
Upon hearing of the murder, 29-year-old 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 was later imprisoned for a robbery conviction and then eventually confessed to shooting Frierson. In 1984, Pearson and Burge were charged with second degree murder after Pearson changed his statement to say that he was with Burge when Burge fatally shot Frierson. In exchange for his testimony, Pearson was allowed to plead guilty to being an accessory after the fact. He received three years in prison and was immediately released.
At Burge’s trial in 1986, 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 September 1986 and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Immediately after Burge’s conviction, the detective who completed the investigation in the case questioned detective 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 admitted 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. In 1992, Burge went to trial a second time. Frierson’s sister and mother admitted they had lied at the first trial. A jury acquitted Burge 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.
– Maurice Possley