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Michael Shannon

Other Orleans Parish Exonerations
On Sunday, November 21, 2004, 46-year-old Ralph Cole, Jr. and two friends rode their motorcycles to a gas station in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans, Louisiana. After they parked near a grass median next to Chef Menteur highway, a man walked up, shot Cole twice in the head with a handgun, and fled to a nearby car that sped off.

Police found seven witnesses to the shooting. All of the witnesses described the gunman as a black man who was no less than 6 feet tall and perhaps as tall as 6 feet 3 inches.

Within a day, police developed a theory of the shooting. They believed that it was an act of revenge following a confrontation that occurred three weeks earlier on October 30, 2004 between a man named Wayne Palmer and Cole’s brother, Darrin Cole, on the campus of Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Darrin Cole told police that on that day, he was on his motorcycle and began spinning the tires—“burning rubber.” Palmer claimed he was hit by debris and punched Cole. Both men scuffled until campus police intervened and cited each of them for disturbing the peace.

Police assembled a photographic lineup containing Palmer’s picture and showed it to Gloria Brown, a cashier at the gas station; Emma Bourgoyne, who was in a car stopped at the traffic light in front of the station; and Anthony Angelain, one of Ralph Cole’s friends present when Cole was killed. None of them identified Palmer as the gunman.

In May 2005, police said a confidential informant reported that Palmer had arranged for his cousin, 41-year-old Michael Shannon, to shoot Darrin Cole. But Shannon shot Ralph Cole after mistaking him for Darrin Cole.

Detectives assembled another photographic array containing Shannon’s photograph and showed it to Bourgoyne and Angelain. Bourgoyne picked Shannon as the gunman, but Angelain did not. None of the other witnesses was shown the array because they had told police they did not get a good look at the gunman’s face.

On May 6, 2004, based solely on Bourgoyne’s identification, police arrested Shannon even though he was only 5 feet 6 inches tall. He was indicted in July 2005 on a charge of second-degree murder.

In 2006, the trial court denied a motion to suppress Bourgoyne’s identification of Shannon. In 2008, Shannon’s defense attorney filed a motion seeking to present an expert on eyewitness identification. The motion was denied, but in November 2008, a judge ruled that the prosecution had violated Shannon’s right to a speedy trial and dismissed the case entirely.

In September 2009, the Louisiana Court of Appeal reversed that ruling and reinstated the charge. The Louisiana Supreme Court declined to review that decision and on February 2, 2011, Shannon went to trial in Orleans Parish District Court.

The trial lasted one day. Darrin Cole recounted the scuffle with Palmer and told the jury that he had heard that Shannon was Palmer’s cousin—hearsay testimony that was presented without an objection from Shannon’s defense lawyer.

Bourgoyne identified Shannon as the gunman, although she admitted that she usually wore glasses and was not wearing them when she saw the shooting. When confronted with her original description of the gunman as about six feet tall—six inches taller than Shannon—Bourgoyne said, “I’m not good at judging heights.”

Detective Jeff Jacob, who assembled the photographic lineup that Bourgoyne viewed, testified that Bourgoyne initially ruled out four of the six men in the photographic lineup. He therefore placed pieces of paper over the photographs of those four individuals to allow her to “concentrate” on the remaining two photographs. Jacobs said Bourgoyne then said the gunman was wearing a baseball cap, so he put pieces of paper on the top of the two remaining photographs. Only then did she identify Shannon as the gunman.

Paul Fleming, Shannon’s defense lawyer, presented no evidence, although he knew that there were six other witnesses who had described the gunman as being much taller than Shannon. Fleming also failed to present evidence suggesting that there was little chance that the gunman shot Ralph Cole after mistaking him for his brother, Darrin. In fact, Ralph Cole was 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighed 174 pounds—considerably larger that Darrin Cole, who was 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 102 pounds.

And Fleming ignored Shannon’s sister, who said that no one in their family was related to Anthony Palmer. Instead, Fleming accepted as fact—and conceded to the jury—that Palmer and Shannon were cousins.

By a vote of 10 to 2, the jury convicted Shannon of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The Louisiana Court of Appeal upheld Shannon’s conviction and sentence in 2012. Shannon, acting without a lawyer, filed a post-conviction petition that was denied in 2014. After the Louisiana Court of Appeal denied his appeal, Shannon sought review in the Louisiana Supreme Court.

While that was pending, Paul Casteleiro, an attorney for Centurion Ministries, a non-profit organization in New Jersey that investigates wrongful convictions, began to represent Shannon. He filed a supplemental petition supporting Shannon’s appeal on the ground that Shannon’s trial attorney had failed to provide an adequate legal defense.

In June 2016, the Louisiana Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s dismissal of the petition and remanded the case for a hearing.

During three days of testimony in 2016 and 2017, five of the six witnesses who were not called to testify at Shannon’s trial testified that the gunman was over six feet tall. The sixth witness had since died.

Shannon’s sister, Carol Shannon, testified that she repeatedly told Fleming that Palmer was not related to anyone in the family. “I specifically told him that we weren’t related to anybody named Wayne Palmer. I screamed it to him.”

Fleming testified at the hearing that he could not remember why he never failed to conduct any investigation into the other witnesses or call them to testify at the trial. “I’ve been wracking my brain trying to remember,” Fleming testified.

On July 13, 2017, Orleans Parish District Judge Byron Williams vacated Shannon’s conviction and ordered a new trial. Judge Williams ruled that Shannon had not received a constitutionally fair trial because of the failures of his trial defense attorney. Shannon was released on bail on July 28, 2017.

On February 7, 2018, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzarro dismissed the charge.

“In the interest of justice, we felt that this was the appropriate resolution to this case,” Cannizzaro said in a statement. “In light of the new testimony from…witnesses presented at the hearing for post-conviction relief, it appears in all likelihood that (Shannon) was not the person responsible for this homicide.”

Shannon subsequently filed a claim for compensation from the state of Louisiana. He was awarded $313,750.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/15/2018
Last Updated: 8/24/2021
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2004
Sentence:Life without parole
Age at the date of reported crime:41
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No