Early on the morning of May 15, 1967, three men entered the office of a New Orleans, Louisiana service station. Manager Oscar Meeks was inside, along with his assistant Frank Wilson. One of the three men inquired about the cost of repairing a tire, and as Meeks began to answer, another man – who Wilson would later identify as Larry Hudson – pulled out a gun and demanded money.
Meeks resisted, and in the ensuing struggle, he was pushed through the door of the office and shot. At this point, Wilson ran out of the office, but after going a block and a half, he turned around and went back. When Wilson got back, two of the three attackers had fled, and Meeks was holding the third, John Duplessis, at gunpoint. Duplessis was arrested and implicated 19-year-old Larry Hudson and Hayes Williams
as the other perpetrators, and they were also arrested. Two days later, Meeks died of the gunshot wound.
Williams pled guilty to non-capital murder, while Duplessis and Hudson pled not guilty, and were tried together. The case against Hudson was based primarily on Wilson’s eyewitness testimony identifying him as the shooter. The day before the trial, the district attorney showed Wilson two photos, one of Duplessis and the other of Hudson, and Wilson identified them as the perpetrators.
Defense attorneys would later argue that this was a deliberate tactic to enable Wilson to pick out Hudson in the courtroom. At trial, Wilson testified that he had picked Hudson from a lineup five days after the crime, but a police officer who was present at the lineup testified that Wilson had not positively identified Hudson at that time. On December 2, 1967, both defendants were found guilty and sentenced to death. Several years later, both sentences were commuted to life in prison.
In 1969, the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld Hudson’s conviction. He petitioned for habeas relief in 1972, 1974 and 1976, but was repeatedly denied.
In August 1986, an amended Louisiana Public Records Act took effect, providing public access to police reports that had previously been unavailable. In 1988, with the help of jailhouse lawyer Burl Carter, Hudson obtained copies of police reports that had never been disclosed to the defense. The reports showed that when shown a photographic display, Wilson – the key eyewitness against Hudson – had originally identified another man, Larry Jones, as one of the perpetrators, but was later unable to identify Jones in a physical lineup.
Based on the unreliability of Wilson’s testimony, and prosecutorial misconduct in concealing it, a Federal District Court vacated Hudson’s conviction and remanded the case for retrial in February, 1993. The district attorney chose not to retry the case, and Hudson was released on May 25, 1993.
While in prison, Williams became the plaintiff in a major law suit that led to reforms of Louisiana’s brutal Angola prison.
Eventually, a prominent New Orleans attorney took Williams’s case pro bono. In 1996, 29 years after his guilty plea, Williams’ conviction was vacated by the trial court in Orleans Parish because the prosecution had withheld exculpatory evidence, and he was granted a retrial.
The district attorney’s office dismissed the charges and on May 15, 1997, Williams was released from prison.
- Alexandra Gross