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Kuantau Reeder

Other Orleans Parish Exonerations
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On April 13, 1993, Mark Broxton was shot outside a convenience store in the Algiers section of New Orleans, Louisiana. Struck four times in the side, Broxton staggered into the store and collapsed.

Police officers arrived about 10 minutes later and found Broxton on the floor. Broxton said he did not know who shot him, but he also told the officers he would “take care” of the matter himself. Broxton, who was 21 years old, died later that night at a local hospital.

Eric Price said he saw the shooting. He said he was on the other side of General DeGaulle Boulevard, and told police that he saw a “Black male wearing a black, blue and purple jacket” running from the store and then discarding the jacket in a nearby dumpster. Police recovered the jacket, and would also lift a fingerprint from a stamp found in a pocket.

The police talked to one of Broxton’s friends on April 18, and she said that people mentioned two men as the possible shooter: Berzeracque Johnson and 20-year-old Kuantau Reeder.

Johnson was of particular interest. Broxton’s friend told police that Johnson had been released from jail the day before the shooting and had threatened Broxton after learning that Broxton had been seeing Johnson’s girlfriend while Johnson was locked up. The girlfriend, Kirshon Smith, told police that Johnson threatened Broxton the day of Johnson’s release. She also said Johnson had called her after the shooting and accurately described the event, including where the bullets struck Broxton.

Detective Wesley Morris put together photos of the two men for a possible lineup. But before Morris could show the photos to Price, a woman named Norma Varist told the police that Reeder was the shooter. She said he had admitted the crime to her.

The police had difficulty arranging a meeting with Price, but he came to the homicide office in July to look at photos. He described the shooter as a “Black dude, [a]bout, about 165-170 pounds, he had a heavy mustache, [a]bout 22-23 years old.

Morris showed Price the array, which contained photos of both men, with Johnson in the fifth position and Reeder in the sixth. According to the officer’s notes, Price identified Reeder as the shooter and signed the back of the sixth photo, confirming his selection.

Police arrested Reeder on August 15, 1993, and charged him with second-degree murder. At the time of the arrest, Reeder was listed as 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighing 221 pounds. Johnson was the same height, but weighed 147 pounds.

Reeder’s first trial, in 1994, ended in a mistrial with a hung jury. His second trial in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court began in July 1995. There was no physical or forensic evidence connecting Reeder to the shooting, and prosecutors did not present a clear motive for the crime. (For reasons that remain unclear, the print lifted from the stamp was not compared at that time with fingerprints from Reeder or Johnson.)

Price testified that he was across the street from the store, helping someone jump-start a car, when he saw Broxton on a payphone outside the store. He said a car pulled up, and the passenger, whom he identified as Reeder, got out and began arguing with Broxton, who placed his hands in the air. Price said Reeder fired six times. Four of the shots hit Broxton; the other two shots hit a car parked next to the store.

Price said Reeder walked to the back of the building, and Broxton went into the store. Price said he also went into the store to get a cold drink, and while he was at the counter, Broxton walked up to the counter with his own drink and then collapsed. Price said he then saw Reeder discard the jacket in the dumpster.

Price admitted that he had a prior conviction in Mississippi for assault and battery. He also said that he did not initially tell police that Reeder showed up at the store in a car.

In addition, Price’s testimony seemed at odds with the coroner’s report, which said that the four bullet wounds Broxton received made it very unlikely that he would have been able to walk to the back of the store and grab a drink.

Osama Ali, a cashier at the store, testified at the first trial but could not be located by the defense for the second. His testimony was read into the record. Ali said Reeder was a regular at the store but he didn’t remember seeing him on the night of the shooting. He said that Broxton didn’t go to the back to grab a drink; he entered the store, threw himself on the counter, asked Ali to call the police, and then collapsed. Ali also testified that he didn’t remember seeing Price inside the store after the shooting. He said the other cashier had locked the door right after shots were fired and Broxton entered the store.

Varist was called as a witness. She refused to testify and was jailed for contempt. But Morris testified about Varist’s statements, and Mary Menina, Broxton’s mother, also testified that information she received from Varist led her to believe that Reeder was the shooter. Reeder’s attorney did not object to this testimony as hearsay.

Reeder had testified at the first trial, but he did not testify at the second. His earlier testimony was admitted into evidence. At the first trial, Reeder said he did not shoot Broxton and that he and friends were nearby playing basketball when they heard the shots. Reeder testified that he knew Broxton, had grown up with him, and had not fought with him. He said he was wearing a T-shirt and shorts on April 13. He denied shooting Broxton in retaliation for Broxton’s friend pulling a gun on him. He also admitted to two prior convictions for drug possession and distribution.

Reeder presented three witnesses who either gave him an alibi for the time of the shooting or said he was not wearing a jacket on April 13.

Smith, the former girlfriend of Johnson, testified that she was dating Broxton at the time of his death. She said that Johnson had told her that Broxton would pay for this transgression. She also testified that Johnson never actually admitted shooting Broxton and that she had heard rumors that Reeder had shot Broxton because of an argument between the two men two days earlier, on Easter Sunday.

The jury convicted Reeder of second-degree murder on a non-unanimous vote on July 13, 1995, and he later received a sentence of life without parole.

In his first appeal, Reeder argued that the trial judge had erred in allowing jurors to hear evidence of his previous convictions and that prosecutors had hidden their knowledge of Ali’s whereabouts to prevent him from giving new testimony. On the day of the verdict, Reeder’s attorney learned that Ali was appearing in court as a defendant in a separate criminal case. The prosecution had “constructive notice” of how to find Ali, the appeal said, but failed to give that information to the defense.

Louisiana’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal denied Reeder’s appeal on July 16, 1997.

In 2009, Reeder’s attorneys with the Criminal Justice Clinic at Tulane Law School filed a motion for post-conviction relief in state court. The heart of this claim was evidence that Price had been convicted in federal court for lying on a gun application. Price had testified falsely when asked about the extent of his criminal record, the motion said. Prosecutors had failed to disclose this conviction prior to trial and also failed to correct Price’s false testimony.

In his closing argument at trial, the prosecutor had said, “You will find that Earl Price, with everything you know, is a credible witness. He’s not perfect – when asked about his convictions, he admitted ‘em right away. Not a hesitation, not a lie, admitted them right away.”

The state did not deny the lack of disclosure but said that Reeder was barred from raising this claim because too much time had passed since his conviction. A series of appellate rulings in Louisiana state courts affirmed that position.

On November 22, 2013, Reeder filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Again, he said that prosecutors had failed to disclose the information about Price, which went to his credibility as a witness, and had failed to correct his false testimony.

Judge Nannette Brown dismissed Reeder’s petition on March 21, 2017. She said that by the time of the second trial, the state and Reeder’s attorney were aware that Price had given incomplete testimony about his criminal past, which went beyond his failure to mention the weapons conviction. If the state failed to correct this testimony, the defense could have done it on cross-examination or raised it on appeal prior to 2009.

Judge Brown also said that although prosecutors had clearly failed to disclose Price’s weapons conviction, the error was harmless. First, there was other evidence beyond Price’s testimony that pointed to Reeder’s guilt, the court said. In addition, Judge Brown wrote, “The undisclosed evidence is cumulative because it impeaches an already thoroughly impeached witness, whose criminal history and inconsistent prior testimony was presented to the jury.”

Reeder appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. His appeal said that the other evidence of guilt cited by Judge Brown was flimsy. The windbreaker in the dumpster was never tied to Reeder. In addition, the testimony from two witnesses about what Varist said was hearsay and not a reliable means of determining guilt.

“Finally, as previously noted, the missing impeachment evidence was not an additional crime of violence – which may indeed have been cumulative – but rather a conviction for lying which directly targeted the star witness’ credibility,” the appeal said. “The fact that Mr. Price had another prior conviction for a crime of violence that was withheld by the State would not have caused a jury to question his honesty or reliability in the same manner that knowing he had been previously convicted of lying would. An argument to the contrary is both illogical and disingenuous.”

On October 20, 2020, a three-judge panel from the Fifth Circuit rejected Reeder’s appeal. It said the lower court was correct in viewing the state’s failure to disclose as harmless error.

Reeder’s attorneys prepared a potential appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Appeals Division of the Orleans Parish District Attorney worked on the state’s response, but when attorneys saw the claims of prosecutorial misconduct, the case was turned over to the office’s Civil Rights Division, which began its own review.

That re-examination turned up new evidence favorable to Reeder. According to the prosecutor’s notes, Price told prosecutors on two separate occasions in 1993 that he had picked Johnson from the lineup photos.

The notes from a meeting on December 27, 1993, said, “Price says he picked #5 – that would be Bezacque [sp] Johnson” and “Price is adamant that he picked #5 & not #6.” That prosecutor would also place a note in the file that said “Earl Price signed in under #6.”

At the time, the practice of the district attorney’s office was to not turn over prosecutors’ notes to the defense.

In its review, the Civil Rights Division said that the prosecutor was materially misleading in his presentation of the evidence.

Although aware that Price had twice said he selected Johnson as the shooter, the prosecutor asked Morris whether Price or anyone else had ever wavered in their identifications. Morris, unaware of the prosecutor’s notes, said no. “This line of questioning represents an additional form of misconduct,” the state wrote in a response filed on November 18, 2021, that supported Reeder's motion for a new trial.

In addition, the New Orleans Police Department examined the print from the stamp in October 2021 and compared it against the prints of Johnson and Reeder. While the print lacked sufficient detail to make an identification, it was usable for purposes of excluding a potential contributor. Both Johnson and Reeder were excluded as contributors.

At a hearing before Judge Rhonda Goode-Douglas of Orleans Parish District Court on December 6, 2021, Sheila Myers, with Tulane’s law clinic, said: “Mr. Reeder’s case presents the Court with both a frightening example of prosecutorial misconduct by the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office committed about 28 years ago, and the inspiring example of the action taken by the current office to correct that Brady violation.”

After hearing the evidence, Judge Goode-Douglas vacated Reeder’s conviction and then dismissed the charge on a separate motion by the state. A retrial was unfair and impossible, the state said, because Varist and Price were both dead. Reeder was released from prison that day.

Members of Broxton’s family spoke to Reeder via Zoom, and they expressed their sorrow about the time he spent in prison away from friends, family and opportunity. Reeder said he felt their loss, and that he had suffered his own loss. “I grew up with [Broxton],” Reeder said. “I lost a friend, too. And I tried to explain that to everybody.”

Finally, Bidish Sarma, the special litigation counsel for the Civil Rights Division, spoke to Broxton’s family. “I just want to say, what you said today and the way you’ve carried yourself in this courtroom today, and in our communications with you, is incredibly impressive,” Sarma said. “I want to apologize, on behalf of the State of Louisiana, that – that we failed you. This should not have happened the way that it did. We have an obligation to seek the truth – which is really hard to do. But we also have an obligation to tell the truth – which is much easier to do. And it’s something that we did not do in this case, for nearly 25 years. We have come clean today and seek to make amends for what we have done. But that isn’t comfort to you, because we botched the prosecution of the killer of your loved one, Mr. Broxton. And, for that, I am very sorry.”

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 3/24/2022
Last Updated: 3/24/2022
State:Louisiana
County:Orleans
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1993
Convicted:1995
Exonerated:2021
Sentence:Life without parole
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No