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Catina Curley

Other Louisiana Exonerations
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On March 30, 2005, New Orleans police responded to a shooting in the Little Woods neighborhood on the city’s east side near Lake Pontchartrain. They found 29-year-old Renaldo Curley dead of a single gunshot wound. His wife, 32-year-old Catina Curley, told officers that she had accidentally shot Renaldo during a fight after he had physically threatened her. Curley was arrested that night and indicted in August 4, 2005 on a charge of second-degree murder. Initially, she pled not guilty but then changed to a dual plea of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.

After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29, 2005, Curley’s trial was delayed for more than a year. Two days before her trial started in late February 2007, her attorney withdrew the dual plea, removing the insanity plea.

At the trial in Criminal District Court for Orleans Parish, several witnesses testified to the stormy and often violent relationship between Catina and Renaldo Curley. There had been at least six police reports alleging domestic violence by Renaldo Curley, although some of the records of those reports were lost in the aftermath of Katrina. Catina Curley’s supervisor at Walmart said that she had often come to work with injuries that she said were caused by her husband.

The Curleys had separated a few days before the shooting. Catina had moved out to live with her mother. Five of their children, including three from their previous relationships, were still living with Renaldo Curley in the couple’s former home. Four of the children testified at the trial. Renaldo’s son from a previous relationship said his father wasn’t abusive and that his stepmother had shot Renaldo while he was in the process of leaving the house. The other three, including the two who were the couple’s shared biological children, all said that Renaldo was frequently violent with them and their mother. None of them actually saw the shooting, but each said it had happened after a fierce argument, and one daughter said her mother was backing up to get away from her husband just before the shot was fired.

Catina Curley also testified. She recounted the years of abuse and beatings she had received. She said she had returned to the house that evening because her daughter had said that a woman who lived next door was up in the bedroom talking on the phone. Curley said she thought that was disrespectful, and went to the house to ask the women and another guest to leave.

During the argument, Renaldo threatened her. After he went downstairs, she got the gun he kept under the mattress as a way to protect herself if he tried to harm her as she left the house. She denied loading the gun but couldn’t explain why there were bullets on the bedroom floor. As they continued their argument on the first floor, Curley said, her hands shook and the gun went off by accident. In addition, she said the gun was aimed at the floor and the bullet must have ricocheted up and hit her husband. But the autopsy found that the bullet had entered Renaldo Curley’s chest straight on, and there was no evidence of a bullet mark on the floor. Curley testified that she received $25,000 from her husband’s life-insurance policy.

By a vote of 11-1, the jury convicted Curley of second-degree murder on March 3, 2007, and she was sentenced to life in prison.

Curley’s first appeal argued the murder conviction was flawed because there was insufficient evidence of intent to kill her husband. It was denied. Curley then filed for post-conviction relief, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel. She said her trial attorney had withdrawn the plea of not guilty by reason of insanity without consulting her and without conducting any psychiatric examination. In addition, she argued, he had been negligent in failing to educate the jury on the effects of domestic violence, particularly "battered woman syndrome," a type of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

During an evidentiary hearing before the trial court, Curley’s attorney said he was ignorant of the syndrome and thought it had to be joined with an insanity plea. But he also believed that pursuing an insanity plea required Curley to be “paranoid schizophrenic or whatever.” Because he didn’t think that was the case – and didn’t hire any experts to assess his client – he didn’t overtly pursue a defense based on Curley’s systemic abuse by her husband. Instead, he assumed that would be clear to the jury, even without expert testimony.

The trial court granted Curley a new trial, stating that the attorney was ineffective because his withdrawal of the insanity plea had eliminated the opportunity to pursue a defense based on battered woman syndrome. The state appealed to the Fourth Circuit of the Louisiana Court of Appeals, which reversed that ruling. The Louisiana Supreme Court overturned that decision on June 27, 2018.

In the opinion granting Curley a new trial, the court said both of the lower-courts’ rulings were in error. It said that "battered woman syndrome," despite its name, was not a mental condition, and therefore didn’t need to be paired with an insanity defense. Rather, it could be presented in a claim of self-defense or justifiable homicide, if an attorney properly laid the foundation for its introduction. It’s possible, the court noted, that armed with this information, jurors might have found Curley guilty of a lesser crime, such as manslaughter.

Curley was released on $1,000 bond on June 29, 2018. Her retrial began on February 26, 2019. It was different from her first trial in several ways. First, her new attorneys, including those with Loyola University New Orleans’ Law Clinic, presented substantial evidence and expert testimony about Curley's state of mind. Beth Meeks, an expert on domestic violence, testified that Curley had "battered woman syndrome" at the time of the shooting. Dr. Kathryn Lawing, a psychologist, testified that Curley suffered from PTSD and was in fear for her life. In addition, Curley claimed self-defense, a claim the state was required to refute by showing that she was the aggressor. Finally, Curley didn’t testify, and the trial was before a judge, not a jury.

On March 1, 2019, Judge Arthur L. Hunter Jr. of Criminal District Court for Orleans Parish acquitted Curley. He had also presided over her first trial and the initial post-conviction hearing.

In his ruling, Hunter wrote, “The defense not only presented what this Court found to be credible witness testimony, but also compelling expert witness testimony of the defendant’s state of mind due to the years of domestic violence she experienced.”

After the acquittal, Curley went over to speak with Renaldo Curley’s father. According to The Advocate, she said, “I still wanted to tell him I’m sorry for the loss … just because you seen me smiling on the outside, I still have pain on the inside. That was my husband, and it’s my children's father,” Curley said. She told the newspaper she hoped the divided family could begin healing. “That's something they didn't have when I was down there for 11 years. Enough is enough. It's time for peace.”

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 3/7/2019
State:Louisiana
County:Orleans
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2005
Convicted:2007
Exonerated:2019
Sentence:Life
Race:Black
Sex:Female
Age at the date of reported crime:32
Contributing Factors:Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No