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Troy Rhodes

Other Orleans County, Louisiana exonerations
On June 19, 2002, 33-year-old David Blohm, a delivery driver for Leidenheimer Baking Company, got into his truck after dropping off bread at A&D Food Store on Touro Street in New Orleans, Louisiana. Before he could drive off, a man with a sawed-off shotgun got into the passenger seat and demanded money.

Blohm handed over $60, but the robber demanded more. When Blohm did not comply, the robber shot him in the chest once and fled.

Blohm staggered into the store and called for help. He was taken to the hospital where he survived following considerable medical attention.

Police Lieutenant Christy Williams interviewed Blohm shortly after his arrival at the hospital. Blohm described the robber as a dark-skinned Black man, 5 feet 7 inches tall, 165 pounds, 16 to 25 years old, with braided hair. He said the robber was wearing blue jeans and a blue shirt with a Nike logo.

Initially, Williams assembled a photographic lineup with men who fit the description. However, Blohm had lost his glasses during the shooting and was unable to make an identification.

Three days later, Blohm changed his description. He said the robber was a light-skinned Black man who was 5 feet 5 inches tall, 16 to 35 years old and had a tattoo, though Blohm could not say where the tattoo was located.

Williams showed Blohm a second photographic lineup containing the photo of Travis Joshua, who was considered a suspect. However, Blohm was too medically unstable to make any identification.

Meanwhile, a couple of days after the shooting, 34-year-old Troy Rhodes came into the A&D Food Store. He told employees he had heard that people were saying he was a suspect in the crime—rumors that likely were spread by store employees.

Rhodes was a regular customer in the store. He had made a purchase and left 45 minutes before Blohm was shot. Rhodes told employees that he had nothing to do with the crime. “I did not shoot the bread man,” he declared.

On June 25, 2002, Williams presented a third photographic lineup to Blohm on the day he had surgery to repair his liver—his third surgery since the shooting. This lineup included Rhodes, but not Travis, based on an anonymous tip from Crime Stoppers that mentioned Rhodes’s name.

Blohm identified Rhodes as the gunman based on his facial expression, though Blohm could not articulate what it was about the expression that led him to believe that Rhodes was his assailant. Rhodes did not have any tattoos.

Rhodes was arrested on June 26 and charged with attempted murder and armed robbery.

Williams later reported that during that time, there was another anonymous tip that the gun used in the crime was hidden under a house on North Dorgenois Street and was going to be destroyed. A sawed-off shotgun was recovered underneath the house, wrapped in a purple and gray striped shirt bearing a Sprite logo. No fingerprints were obtained from the weapon. There was no evidence connecting Rhodes to the address. There was a man there who was wanted by police and arrested, but police did not question him or any of the six other men at the house about the shooting of Blohm.

Prior to Rhodes’s trial, his defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress Blohm’s identification as well as a second identification that had been by Bassam Abed, an employee in the A&D Food Store.

Abed had identified Rhodes as the gunman even though Abed admitted he did not see the shooting. During the hearing, evidence was presented that Abed had identified Rhodes at the direction of his boss at the store and that he knew Rhodes as a regular customer prior to the shooting. As a result, that identification was suppressed. Blohm’s identification was not.

On June 4, 2003, Rhodes went to trial in Orleans Parish District Court. There was no evidence linking Rhodes to the crime except for Blohm’s testimony. Police testified that there were no fingerprints from the shotgun or from Blohm’s delivery truck.

Blohm identified Rhodes as the robber. He said that he did not remember saying his attacker had a tattoo or that he gave varying heights, weights, and age ranges. He admitted that the type of shotgun he described was not the same as the weapon found under the house on Dorgenois Street. Nonetheless, he said he was “110 percent” sure Rhodes was the robber.

On June 5, 2003, after a two-day trial, the jury, by a vote of 10 to 2, convicted Rhodes of attempted murder and armed robbery. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison on the armed robbery conviction and an additional 50 years on the attempted murder charge—a total of 149 years.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the convictions and sentence in April 2014.

Acting without a lawyer, Rhodes filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Ultimately, Pamela Metzger, then a law professor at the Tulane University School of Law, represented Rhodes. That began a several year court battle that saw a federal magistrate twice recommend that the petition be denied on procedural grounds—that Rhodes had filed the claim too late.

Ultimately in March 2018, U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo rejected the finding that Rhodes’s claim was defaulted. Judge Milazzo granted the petition, vacated Rhodes’s convictions, and ordered a new trial.

Judge Milazzo ruled that Rhodes’s trial defense lawyer had provided an inadequate legal defense and that his post-conviction appeals lawyer had provided a similar inadequate legal defense.

The judge said the trial defense lawyer failed to confront Blohm with medical records showing that he was heavily sedated at the time he identified Rhodes as his attacker.

During cross-examination of Blohm, the defense lawyer asked him if he was on any pain medication at the time he identified Rhodes.

“No, ma’am,” Blohm replied. “I was not on anything at that time.”

“You were not on any pain medication at that time?” the lawyer asked once more.

Blohm shook his head, giving a negative response.

The prosecution knew, however, that Blohm’s medical records showed he was heavily medicated with painkillers, having just emerged from surgery. The records had been presented in evidence, but never referenced.

Judge Milazzo noted that Blohm was not only under the influence of pain medication, but was experiencing the “lingering effects of general anesthesia.”

The judge noted that the defense attorney’s decision to ask Blohm about his pain medications, but without using the medical records to impeach his denials “resulted in a situation where [Blohm] was allowed to falsely bolster the credibility of the identification with impunity.”

Judge Milazzo noted that the defense lawyer “failed to even mention that the victim had been in surgery the same day as the identification.”

Judge Milazzo also ruled that Rhodes had not defaulted on his claim over the medical records. Instead, Judge Milazzo ruled that Rhodes’s post-conviction appellate lawyer had failed to obtain the full court file and as a result, had failed to raise the medical records issue during Rhodes’s post-conviction appeals.

On June 1, 2018, Rhodes was released on bond, nearly 15 years from the date he was convicted and dispatched to the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana.

The prosecution appealed. In January 2019, the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld Judge Milazzo’s decision. “Rhodes has established that his trial counsel and post-conviction counsel were constitutionally ineffective,” the appeals court ruled.

Nearly three years later, on November 3, 2021, the prosecution dismissed the charges.

“Mr. Rhodes, you're free to go,” Criminal District Judge Nandi Campbell declared.

When he was released on bond in 2018, Rhodes went to a communal house operated by First 72+, a re-entry program for individuals released from prison. He has continued to work for the organization as the housing coordinator, helping others who have been released from Angola.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 11/15/2021
Last Updated: 11/15/2021
Most Serious Crime:Attempted Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery
Reported Crime Date:2002
Sentence:149 years
Age at the date of reported crime:34
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No