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Jarvis Ballard

Other Louisiana homicide exonerations
In the early morning hours of January 10, 1998, a 60-year-old white woman was sexually assaulted and robbed in her home in Violet, Louisiana. In her first account to police, she said two Black men forced their way into her home, demanding that she show them the “safe.” When she insisted there was no safe, both men raped her and threatened her with death. The men took stereo equipment and a television and fled.

Yolanda Ceaser, who lived next door to the victim, told police that at about 2 a.m. a young man she knew as “Lil Noon,” knocked on her door asking to see Ceaser’s 24-year-old son, Louis Ceaser Jr. She turned him away and watched as he went into the victim’s house. Yolanda woke her son, who recognized the man as 20-year-old Ulysses Pierre. Yolanda called 911 and they watched as Pierre and another man brought items out of the victim’s house and put them in the back seat of a car. Yolanda told police she thought a woman was in the car when it pulled away.

The victim told police that she was babysitting her 3½ year-old grandson and thought the knock on her door at 2 a.m. was her son coming to pick up the boy. She said when she realized her son was not at the door, she tried to close it, but the two men forced their way in and demanded she reveal the location of a safe. She said she did not scream or attempt to violently resist when the men forced her into the bedroom because her grandson was asleep in the king-sized bed.

Hours later, police brought Pierre in for questioning. During an interrogation, Pierre first said that he acted alone. Pierre later said that because the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s detectives had a report that two men were involved, they refused to accept his statement. Pierre later said he was physically abused by the detectives and so he implicated 29-year-old Sidney Williams and 18-year-old Jarvis Ballard. Pierre later said he falsely implicated Ballard because he thought Ballard would never be convicted. In addition, Pierre disclosed the location of the items stolen from the victim’s home.

When police arrived at that location, they recovered most of the stolen items. They also spotted Ballard nearby and arrested him. At the station, Ballard denied involvement in the crime. He would later testify that Sheriff’s Detective Scott Davis kicked him in the testicles so hard that he would later require surgery. At that point, Ballard later said, he agreed to whatever Davis told him to say in a statement. Ballard signed the statement about an hour after he arrived at the station.

At the same time, the officers prepared two photographic lineups. Both were shown to the victim, who was in the station as well. The victim identified Ballard as the first of the two men who forced their way into her home. She identified Pierre as the second man inside. The victim said that Pierre raped her after Ballard told him to do so and that Ballard then raped her as well.

Later that day, police arrested Williams and brought him to the station. During questioning, Williams admitted that he and Pierre committed the crime, but he denied raping the victim. He said that Ballard “wasn’t even there.” Williams said that his girlfriend, 17-year-old Quandreka Ballard, who was Jarvis Ballard’s sister, was in the car.

On January 21, 1998, Ballard, Pierre, and Williams were indicted on a charge of aggravated rape. Police by that time had arrested Quandreka and recovered a ring that had been yanked from the victim so hard that it lacerated her finger. Quandreka and the woman at whose residence the other stolen items were recovered were also charged and ultimately pled guilty.

On January 28, 1998, the police interviewed the victim, and she gave what would be the fourth statement about the crime. In her 911 call as well as two other subsequent interviews, the victim had said only two men were involved. The second and third interviews were never disclosed to Ballard’s defense attorney. More than 20 years later, they would be key evidence supporting his exoneration.

In the third interview, detectives told the victim that three suspects were charged with the crime. “We have arrested three subjects in connection with the rape and burglary, you were able to identify two of the subjects,” a detective said. The victim was then asked, “[D]o you feel that there could have been three assailants inside your residence at the time of assault?”

The victim replied, “Yes, it’s entirely possible. I was face down on the bed during most of the sexual assault, and one of them kept leaving the room. And coming back into the room.” She said nothing about anything that this third man did during the crime.

Prior to the trial, the prosecution offered all three defendants a chance to plead guilty to a lesser crime, but required that all three had to accept the offer. When Ballard refused, insisting he was innocent, the offer was withdrawn.

On July 19, 1999, Ballard and Pierre went to trial together in St. Bernard Parish District Court. The trial lasted three days and both men were convicted of aggravated rape.

The prosecution presented the testimony of Yolanda Ceaser and her son, Louis, who testified about seeing Pierre and another man taking property from the victim’s home and putting it in a car. Louis testified that he saw three men coming to and from the house.

Louis also testified that he had given Ballard a ride home from a club in New Orleans not long before. Louis said that he got home about five minutes after dropping Ballard off and that he had been in bed for about 15 minutes when his mother woke him to report that Pierre had come to the front door.

The victim testified and identified Ballard as the first man through her front door and identified Pierre as the man who came in after Ballard. She said that Pierre raped her after Ballard ordered him to do so. She said Ballard was holding a pillow as if to smother her while she was raped. She also testified that there was a third person involved, but she did not see him. She said that a man with “a different voice” shouted at her “not to look at him” and then a pillowcase was pulled over her head. She said all three wore gloves.

For the first time, the victim said that the third man forced his penis into her mouth. And she told the jury that she had contracted gonorrhea as a result of the sexual assaults.

During cross-examination, Ballard’s attorney asked her about her 911 call during which she said there were only two men involved. “What I said was I saw two,” she replied. “I saw two at a time. I didn’t see three at a time.” She added that her report was “a very abbreviated version.”

St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Detective Scott Davis read Ballard’s statement to the jury. He denied physically abusing Ballard or coercing him in any way. The statement conflicted with the prosecution’s evidence in some areas. Ballard said he and the others walked to the victim’s house—there was no mention of a car or of Quandreka Ballard. He also said that no one wore gloves.

Ballard was quoted as saying that as he was raping the victim, he became afraid. “I didn’t even finish, so I ran out of the house.”

Julie Golden, a forensic analyst for ReliaGene Technologies, testified that she performed DNA tests on a rape kit and numerous items from the victim’s house, including bed sheets, a pillowcase, a comforter, and underwear. She said she found sperm and compared DNA profiles obtained from the sperm to the DNA profiles of Ballard, Pierre, and Williams. Golden told the jury she found the profiles of Pierre and Williams, but not the profile of Ballard.

Pierre’s statement was entered into evidence. It was not read to the jury after Ballard’s attorney objected. However, Sgt. Albert Clavin, who took the statement, told the jury that at the end of the statement, when asked if he had anything to add, Pierre said, “No, I am just sorry for what I did.”

Evidence was presented that items stolen from the victim’s house had been recovered based on Pierre’s admission about their location.

Detective Ray Whitfield was called as a defense witness. He testified that he took a statement from Williams during which Williams admitted that he and Pierre committed the crime.

Ballard’s defense attorney, Kerry Cuccia asked, “And in fact, when you asked about Jarvis Ballard, he tells you on two occasions that Jarvis Ballard was not involved?”

“Yes,” Whitfield said. “At this time he stated that Jarvis Ballard was not involved.”

“And he does, of course, identify that Quandreka was outside in the car?” Cuccia asked.

“Yes, he does,” Whitfield said.

During cross-examination by the prosecutor, Glenn Diaz, Whitfield said he had interviewed the victim twice. Asked if she said how many men were involved in the attack, Whitfield said, “Originally she said it was two subjects that entered her home, and about two weeks after the initial crime I re-interviewed her again and she stated she was now under the impression she felt three subjects were involved, that she recalls three distinct voices inside the residence.”

Ballard’s mother, Linda, testified that Louis Ceaser dropped Jarvis at home between 12:30 and 1 a.m. She said she had to get up to unlock the door to let him in. She said that her husband, James Haynes, got up to go to work as a truck driver at 3 a.m. She said she checked on Jarvis and he was there, but Quandreka was not home.

Haynes testified that he left the house at 1 a.m. for his truck-driving job—a statement that the prosecutor seized upon to discredit Ballard’s mother’s testimony about seeing Jarvis in bed at 3 a.m.

Jarvis Ballard testified that after he denied involvement in the crime, Davis kicked him in the testicles. “And after that, he said, ‘What are you going to do?’” Ballard said. “He said, ‘You want to give a voluntarily [sic] statement?’ I said, ‘No, man, I ain’t done nothing. I can’t give a statement for something I ain’t done.’”

“Did you ultimately give a statement?” Cuccia asked.

“After, I was scared,” Ballard said. “I didn’t know what he was going to do to me.”

Ballard said, “I made parts of the statement from what they was telling me. So it is like they was telling me this and I was just agreeing so they would leave me alone and let me go to jail. They didn’t mention in this statement that I said: ‘You got what you want, bring me to jail. I guess the truth will come out when I go to trial.’”

“What was your state of mind when you gave the statement?” Cuccia asked.

“I was scared,” Ballard said. “I really, you know, I was scared. I never been in trouble with the law.”

Cuccia introduced hospital records showing that not long after he was charged, Ballard underwent a three-hour surgery to repair a hernia. The prosecutor attempted to undercut that evidence by noting that the records failed to say a police officer had kicked him.

Ballard insisted that he had in fact reported “that I was beat up by a deputy.”

“Do you have a doctor here to tell me that or a witness?” the prosecutor asked.

“Who?” Ballard said. “A doctor? There ain’t no doctor here, but all this paper right here.”

As the trial neared conclusion, Pierre’s defense attorney asked for a meeting with the trial judge. He explained that he wanted to put on the record that Pierre wanted to testify, even though the lawyer had advised him against taking the witness stand. However, back in the courtroom, when the defense lawyer said he was calling Pierre to the witness stand, Pierre said, “No, I can’t do it.”

In rebuttal, the prosecutor presented the record showing that Yolanda Ceaser’s 911 call came in at 2:55 a.m. In addition, Davis was recalled and denied that he kicked Ballard.

During closing arguments, the prosecutor told the jury that the reason Ballard’s DNA was not found at the scene was because he did not ejaculate. He pointed to the portion of Ballard’s statement where he said he raped the victim, but did not “finish.”

On July 21, 1999, after less than four hours of deliberation, the jury convicted Ballard and Pierre of aggravated rape. The following day, in a separate trial, a jury convicted Williams of aggravated rape. All three were sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In July 2001, the Louisiana Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the convictions and sentences. In September 2002, the Louisiana Supreme Court denied further appeal.

Over the ensuing years, Ballard filed state post-conviction petitions acting as his own lawyer. Those were denied. He filed a federal petition for habeas corpus in 2005 and that was denied as well.

In March 2017, Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO) took on Ballard’s case and filed an application for a writ challenging Ballard’s conviction. Subsequently, IPNO attorneys Charell Arnold and Richard Davis filed supplements in April and November 2018.

The evidence showed that Ballard was first represented by a public defender. But in 1999, his mother hired Cuccia to handle what would be his first and only criminal trial in St. Bernard Parish. Cuccia assumed that the file the public defender gave him included all prosecution evidence. In fact, it did not, and even though the St. Bernard Parish District Attorney had an open file policy, Cuccia did not check out the file. Even so, the prosecution did not inform him that there were two police reports in the file in which the victim repeated her 911 call report that only two men were involved.

The file also contained a statement from Quandreka Ballard describing how she and Williams picked up Pierre and went to the victim’s house. She sat in the car while Williams and Pierre went into the house. “Ulysses kept coming to the car with property,” she said. “I was crying because I knew they were stealing the stuff and I told Sidney to bring him home, but he wouldn’t. Ulysses told me he raped the lady and Sidney also told me Ulysses raped her. Sidney told me he didn’t rape her, but Ulysses told me he tied her up and raped her.”

In addition, Quandreka said that Williams borrowed the car from Farrell Anderson, picked her up at a hotel, and they picked up Pierre before driving to the victim’s home.

The application for a writ included an affidavit signed by Pierre in 2017 recanting his statement to police that Ballard was involved. “I told the officers I committed the crime, but I lied and told them it was me alone,” the statement said. “They hit me and threatened me, so I lied and told the police Jarvis Ballard was there even though he wasn’t involved. When the police were questioning me, I just panicked. I thought if Jarvis was picked up, they couldn’t do anything to him because he wasn’t guilty.”

Pierre’s mother, Dale, gave a statement saying that when Ballard refused to accept the plea agreement, the prosecutor asked her to try to convince Ballard to take the deal. She also said that she overheard a conversation between the prosecutor and Pierre during which Pierre asserted that Ballard was not involved. IPNO’s filing noted that the prosecutor not only did not disclose that statement to the defense, but introduced Pierre’s statement implicating Ballard as well.

Sabrika Lewis said in an affidavit that she saw Ballard at a party several hours before the attack, which supported Ballard’s statement when he was arrested. In addition, Tyrus Duplesses gave a statement that he was in the parish jail when Ballard came in. Ballard was doubled over in pain and said he had been beaten by police.

Farrel Anderson, whose car Williams used on the night of the crime, gave a statement that when he loaned the car to Williams, Ballard was not present.

In addition, IPNO discovered that the victim’s grandson had given a statement that said only two men were involved. That statement was not disclosed to the defense.

Moreover, IPNO had obtained DNA testing of more items of evidence that had never been tested. Ballard’s DNA was not found.

Four jurors told the IPNO that they did not understand that they could return separate verdicts for Pierre and Ballard. They believed that if they voted to convict one defendant, they had to convict both. An alternate juror admitted improperly taking part in the jury’s deliberations.

The police reports and statements could have been used to impeach the prosecution’s case, the IPNO lawyers said.

In addition, in 2018, Ballard took a polygraph examination and was determined to be truthful when he denied involvement in the crime.

IPNO filed reports from a psychologist who said that Ballard, due to his learning disability, was unusually vulnerable to police pressure and had an increased “risk of a coerced and/false confession.” Another psychologist reviewed the case and concluded there were “a significant number of factors” that “likely affected” the victim’s misidentification of Ballard.

Cuccia provided an affidavit saying he did not hire an investigator or seek out experts on mistaken witness identification or false confessions. He also said he did not interview multiple potential witnesses, including Quandreka Ballard and Farrel Anderson.

The prosecution opposed the motion, arguing that the new evidence was either already addressed at trial or was not new and thus the application for a writ was filed too late.

Without holding a hearing, the trial court denied the writ application, save for the issue of whether an alternate juror took part in deliberations. All of the other issues were procedurally barred because the application was filed too late or the issues had been addressed at trial.

IPNO appealed and on July 21, 2021, the Louisiana Court of Appeal for the Fourth Circuit reversed the ruling and remanded the case back for a hearing.

The appeals court noted that the trial court, in dismissing the writ application, “clearly indicates that it only considered those claims acknowledged and addressed by the State in its written opposition and, moreover, only as the claims were characterized by the State, not as they were raised by the [defense]." “This was clear error,” the appeals court declared.

On August 2, 2021, St. Bernard Parish District Attorney Perry Nicosia dismissed the case and Ballard was freed.

“DNA evidence, witnesses recanting their prior statements and polygraph testing all supported the ‘actual innocence’ claims of Jarvis Ballard,” Nicosia said in a statement. “Our office will always protect the public and prove guilt when evidence of guilt exists; however, when proof of innocence is shown I will follow through with administering justice and correcting past errors.”

In August 2022, Ballard filed a civil-rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana against the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's Office, seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/21/2021
Last Updated: 9/29/2022
County:St. Bernard
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1998
Sentence:Life without parole
Age at the date of reported crime:18
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes*