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Kaliegh Smith

Other Orleans Parish Exonerations
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At around 12:20 p.m. on October 20, 2007, 27-year-old Jason Anderson was shot to death in the Little Woods neighborhood of New Orleans, Louisiana, near Lake Pontchartrain.

Cynthia Shezbie was visiting from Georgia and was in the driveway of her daughter’s house and said she saw Anderson struggling with a man in the street. The man grabbed Anderson by the shirt before firing his weapon. Shezbie said she recognized the shooter from the neighborhood, describing him as Black and shorter than Anderson, who was 5 foot, 8 inches.

Latasha Horace, Anderson’s fiancée, called 911 and told the operator that she didn’t know who shot Anderson. Later, she told a police officer that she had seen the shooter through the window blinds of their home, about 200 feet away, as the man fled.

April Moses, an officer with the New Orleans Police Department, lived near the shooting and was outside with her children when she heard the gunshots. A moment later, she heard tires screeching and then saw a car with three men speed down her street. She said the car slowed enough for the two passengers to jump out. Moses described one man as a Black male with dreadlocks and the other as a Black male with a “low” haircut.

Horace later told the police that a friend of Anderson’s had called after the shooting and told her that Anderson had spoken to the friend about 11 a.m. and said he was going to a nearby park to meet a man named “Colin.” Horace also was said to have told the police that Anderson had recently said that he “didn’t want Colin calling his phone no more.”

Based on an address provided by Horace, police determined that “Colin” was one of the nicknames for 31-year-old Kaliegh Smith. Police went to the address, which was a few blocks from the shooting, and talked with Smith’s wife, Tiffany Smith. The police report said that Tiffany Smith told officers that her husband no longer lived there and she had not seen him for a week.

The police files incorrectly listed Smith as being 5 foot, 6 inches, rather than at least 5 foot, 10 inches. On October 24, they presented a photo array to Shezbie, who had returned to Atlanta after the shooting. The photos did not account for height differences, and Smith’s picture was set against a lighter background than the fillers. Shezbie identified Smith as the shooter.

In addition, Shezbie told the officers about a recent altercation between Anderson and another man, a potential alternate suspect. This person was about the same height as the man Shezbie described as the shooter, had ties to the neighborhood, and was suspected of being involved in other murders. The police did not vigorously pursue that lead, and this information from Shezbie, while in the detective’s notes, did not make it into the official case file.

Police arrested Smith on October 24, charging him with murder. In an interview with detectives, Smith said that he had slept at his mother’s house on the day of the shooting, getting up at 9 a.m. and then leaving with his brother, Ronald Dauphine, to buy some heroin. They then returned to the house, where they remained the rest of the day. His wife stopped by around noon. Sometime later, he said, he heard that Anderson had been shot. Police interviewed Dauphine. He also said that he and Smith had gone out to buy drugs, leaving at about 10:30 a.m.

In June 2008, New Orleans Police seized a weapon from a man named Bernell Campbell. A ballistics report said the gun was the same weapon used to kill Anderson. Campbell said he had gotten the weapon from another man, and neither Campbell nor the other man had connections to Smith. In addition, the gun had a silver barrel, and Shezbie had told officers the gun used to shoot Anderson was black-barreled.

Separately, Shezbie sought help in January 2008 from the Orleans Parish District Attorney with moving her housing voucher from the Housing Authority of New Orleans to Georgia. The letter sent by the district attorney’s office on Shezbie’s behalf said that Smith’s friends and family had threatened her, but there was nothing in the interview notes with a case worker documenting those fears. Two weeks after the voucher arrangement was made, Shezbie testified for the state at a motions hearing.

Shezbie moved back to New Orleans in July 2008, and in May 2009, she told the state that she no longer wanted to testify against Smith. She repeated this desire during the summer and fall of 2009.

The trial against Smith was supposed to start on January 4, 2010, but the prosecutors were granted a continuance as they tried to corral Shezbie into testifying. Eventually, the judge approved an order allowing Shezbie to be held as a material witness with a $200,000 bond.

On January 26, 2010, Shezbie told the lead prosecutor that she was not certain that Smith was the shooter and that “he definitely was not the guy.” She also said the talk in the neighborhood was that the shooter was the brother of Horace’s best friend, which described the alternate suspect she had earlier identified as having a beef with Anderson.

The trial began on February 1, 2010, in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court. Shezbie testified that she saw Smith shoot Anderson, that she recognized Smith from the neighborhood, and that they looked each other in the eye as he ran from the scene.

Horace testified that Anderson was supposed to be looking after their kids that morning, but he wasn’t there when she got back from running errands. A friend of his was watching the kids, and the friend told Horace that Anderson had received a phone call asking him to meet someone. Horace said she heard the gunshots, then ran to the window and saw Smith running away. She said Smith was wearing a red, long-sleeved shirt. (Police seized red shirts from Smith’s house, but no blood was found on them.) She also testified that Anderson had asked her on the day before the shooting to change his phone number, because he didn’t want Smith calling him.

Mitchell Anderson, Anderson’s father, testified that Anderson had told him that he had heard through Smith that there was a $5,000 bounty on Jason's head related to a transgression in Texas, but that Smith said he wasn’t going to do anything about collecting that money because Jason was close to a member of his family. (Smith’s attorneys would later say that Mitchell Anderson misremembered the conversation and was conflating Smith and the alternate suspect, whose relationship with Anderson’s family tracked that description.)

Anderson also said that someone had shot at his son two weeks before his death, but Jason told his father that the shooting had nothing to do with the bounty. In addition, Mitchell Anderson said he recognized Smith because Smith and his son bought and sold drugs together.

Melvin Noah knew both Smith and Anderson from the neighborhood. He said that on the morning of the shooting, Anderson had called and asked Noah if he had seen Smith. Noah testified that he told Anderson that he hadn’t, and that Anderson asked him to tell Smith to call him because “he was waiting on him.” According to telephone records, the call between Noah and Anderson occurred about 10 minutes before the shooting. The records also showed that contrary to Anderson’s purported statement to Horace about not wanting to communicate with Smith, Anderson called Smith about four hours before he was shot.

Tiffany Smith testified on behalf of her husband. She said that she had been with Smith at his mother’s house between 12 noon and 1 p.m. on the day of the shooting, and that Smith had been saddened and confused when he learned of Anderson’s death. In addition, she said the police report was wrong. She had not told the police that she hadn’t seen her husband in a week; she told them that they hadn’t been living together for a week.

Dauphine also testified on behalf of his brother. While his statement to police said the two men left their mother’s at 10:30 a.m. to buy drugs, now he testified that was wrong. They had gotten home at 10:30 a.m.

The defense and prosecution stipulated to several pieces of evidence and testimony: that testimony from the coroner’s office established that Anderson had been shot four times at close range; that the gun used in Anderson’s shooting was the same one recovered in June 2008; and that Campbell had dreadlocks, which seemed to line up with April Moses’s testimony.

At the time of Smith’s trial, Louisiana allowed non-unanimous jury verdicts, and the jury convicted Smith of second-degree murder on February 5, 2010. The jury was split 10-2 in favor of conviction. He was later sentenced to life without parole.

Smith appealed, arguing that the testimony of Anderson, Horace, and Noah contained inadmissible hearsay statements. He also said the court erred in allowing testimony about his drug use and that the non-unanimous verdict was unconstitutional.

On July 11, 2012, Louisiana’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal denied Smith’s motion. While the court said that much of the testimony from Horace, Noah, and Mitchell Anderson about what Jason Anderson told them should not have been allowed, the error was harmless because of the strength of Shezbie’s testimony and the non-hearsay testimony of Horace.

“If the State had not introduced their eyewitness testimony, and if these eyewitnesses had not known the defendant, the improperly-admitted hearsay might have affected the verdict,” the court wrote. It said that the defense had opened the door for an examination of Smith’s drug use by way of the testimony of Tiffany Smith and Dauphine. The court also said until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled otherwise, non-unanimous jury verdicts were still constitutional in Louisiana. (The ruling invalidating these verdicts, although not retroactively, occurred in 2020.)

On January 30, 2014, Shezbie recanted her testimony. In a statement to Smith’s attorneys, she said that she had told detectives from the start that Smith wasn’t the shooter and that she picked him out of the photo array because she knew him from the neighborhood. Closer to trial, when she said that couldn’t identify Smith, prosecutors “threatened and intimidated” her and told her she had two choices: testify against Kaliegh [Smith] or go to jail.”

The attorneys filed a new application for post-conviction relief based on this claim in February 2014, but a date for an evidentiary hearing was never set. Separately, the attorneys filed a petition for post-conviction DNA testing of the physical evidence, principally Anderson’s T-shirt. The motion for testing was approved in 2019, and the shirt was examined by Alan Keel with Forensic Analytical Crime Laboratory. His testing found, not surprisingly, that most of the DNA on Anderson’s shirt was from Anderson, but that there was a secondary male profile on the front top, near the shoulder strap of the sleeveless T-shirt. Smith was eliminated as a source of that DNA.

At this point, Smith’s attorneys withdrew, and the Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO) began representing him. On November 23, 2020, Smith’s attorneys with IPNO filed a supplemental motion for post-conviction relief. Along with the new DNA evidence, the legal team had obtained numerous documents from the police and the district attorney’s office files containing exculpatory evidence that had not been turned over to Smith’s trial attorneys, in apparent violation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Brady v. Maryland.

The documents showed that by the time of the trial, Shezbie had received $2,500 in benefits from the district attorney’s office. There was also a note in her file, agreeing to give her “whatever she needed” after the trial, which would amount to about $2,000 in additional housing assistance.

In addition, according to the motion, prosecutor Myles Ranier had not corrected several instances of false testimony. Shezbie testified that she did not know there was a warrant out for her arrest. But prosecutors had told her about the warrant and threatened her with jail if she did not testify.

Separately, Horace had testified that she didn’t know of any “hit” out on her husband. But the records showed that she had told an assistant prosecutor in December 2007 that the alternate suspect had discussed the contract with her. The motion also noted that Shezbie’s statement that this potential suspect had argued with Anderson the day before the shooting was not disclosed to Smith’s trial attorneys.

In addition, the motion claimed that Smith’s trial attorneys provided ineffective assistance because they failed to test Anderson’s shirt for DNA evidence. The technology was readily available at the time of the trial, and one of the attorneys said he didn’t seek testing because “he didn’t know any such DNA testing could have probative value.”

Smith’s attorneys supplemented this motion on April 9, 2021, based on additional disclosures from the district attorney. Horace, for example, testified that she was immediately sure it was Smith who shot her husband, and “did not put it together in her head.” But interview notes from Ranier two days before her testimony painted a different picture. After prepping Horace, he wrote that Horace: “Waited until [she] got more info, be sure.”

Horace had also testified that Anderson asked to change his own number to avoid Smith, but her grand jury testimony was different. There, she said that Anderson “told me to take out the number for Kaliegh Smith, but I never asked him why.”

Mitchell Anderson’s testimony also came under new scrutiny. In four interviews with prosecutors, between December 20, 2007 and January 4, 2010, he never mentioned his son knowing anything about Smith. Two days later, after Anderson was told that the state’s case was in peril because Shezbie was getting cold feet, his story changed. Now, he said that Smith had told his son about the bounty on his head. But he also said he never met Smith. At trial, he said he had seen Smith at his son’s house.

In its response, filed on May 10, 2021, the Civil Rights Division of the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office agreed that Smith was entitled to a new trial. Smith’s appellate team said prosecutors, working under former District Attorney Leon Cannizzarro “did not make proper disclosures which would have been reasonably likely to create reasonable doubt.”

On May 27, Judge Robin Pittman of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court vacated Smith’s conviction. Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams said he was going to refer the actions by former prosecutors, including Ranier, to the state’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which investigates claims of attorney wrongdoing. “Prosecutorial misconduct serves no one, especially not the victims and their families,” he said. “They are forced to relive past trauma and pain caused by cases they were told were finished.”

On June 14, Pittman granted the prosecution’s motion to dismiss the case against Smith and ordered him released that day from Angola State Prison. “It feels good, it feels lovely,” Smith told WGNO-TV. “The truth has prevailed.”

In August 2021, Innocence Project New Orleans filed complaints with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Louisiana Disciplinary Board against Ranier and three other prosecutors who were involved in the case--Donna Andrieu, Robert L. Freeman and Andrew Milton. All four no longer work in the District Attorney's Office. The complaints asserted that they did not disclose the payments to Shezbie, hid information about a potential alternate suspect, allowed witnesses to lie on the stand and helped to cover up one of the lies.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 6/25/2021
Last Updated: 8/26/2021
State:Louisiana
County:Orleans
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Convicted:2010
Exonerated:2021
Sentence:Life without parole
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:31
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes*