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Elvis Brooks

Other Orleans Parish Exonerations
At 11 p.m. on July 1, 1977, two men robbed the Welcome Inn Bar in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, Louisiana, shooting 58-year-old Cecil Lloyd to death during the robbery.

The bar’s owner, Ida Mae Caruso, told police that two Black men came to the bar’s door and asked for two beers to go. When Caruso handed the cans to the men, they pushed their way inside, each holding either a sawed-off shotgun or rifle. The taller man went behind the bar and took money from the register. The shorter man threatened the patrons and demanded their wallets and purses.

Along with Caruso, customers Catherine Cipriano, Milton Shows and Joseph Noto gave officers with the New Orleans Police Department descriptions of the robbers. Shows described the shorter man as in his mid-20s, and around 5’4” tall. Noto said this man was about 30 years old, 5’6” tall, medium complexion with short hair and wearing “a tan shirt with a floral design on the back.” Cipriano said the shorter man was 25 to 29 years old, with a thin build, and wearing gold cut-off pants and a white T-shirt. Caruso described this robber as in his 20s, about 5’5” tall, with a close haircut, wearing dark pants and a light, champagne-colored shirt with figures. In addition, Caruso said she recognized the shorter robber from the neighborhood.

During the investigation, police collected fingerprint samples from the beer cans and from other items that the robbers touched.

About a week after the robbery-murder, police officers working the case remembered a potential suspect in the neighborhood who they said resembled the description of the shorter robber. His name was Elvis Brooks. He was 19 years old and worked at Brennan’s Restaurant. Officers placed a mugshot of Brooks in a six-pack photo array and showed it to Caruso, Cipriano and Noto, on July 7, 1977. Each identified Brooks as being the shorter robber who shot Lloyd to death.

Police arrested Brooks on July 19, 1977. He was charged with first-degree murder and three counts of armed robbery.

Brooks went to trial on September 22, 1977, in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, represented by Alvin Taylor, a friend of the Brooks family. Shows did not testify, but Caruso, Cipriano, and Noto each identified Brooks as the shorter robber at the Welcome Inn. Their testimony differed from their statements to police. All three testified that the shorter robber wore a white V-neck T-shirt and dark pants. In addition, Noto and Caruso each testified that they had told police that the shorter robber had a mole or similar mark on his forehead. (Brooks had a black dot tattooed on his forehead between his eyes. He got the tattoo in 1975, a year after the mugshot used in the photo array was taken.)

Brooks presented a robust alibi defense. Twelve witnesses, many of them family members, testified that Brooks was at home for a Fourth of July get together at the time of the robbery.

Covering the trial, a reporter for the Times-Picayune wrote: “Try as he might, prosecutor Phil Boudousque could uncover few discrepancies in the testimony of the witnesses. Every witness said Brooks had been home, and every witness said his hair had been in braids — not in the short Afro hairstyle the barroom witnesses said he was wearing.”

In his cross-examinations, Boudousque kept returning to the food consumed at the family gathering, asking several witnesses about their consumption of alcohol and watermelon at the event.

Brooks testified and said that he left Brennan’s on July 1 at about 5:45 p.m. and didn’t leave his house until he went back to work on July 2. He presented records from the restaurant showing his hours on those days. He said he didn’t rob the Welcome Inn. “I have never been inside the place,” he said. “In fact, I don’t go in white barrooms because I know trouble might kick off.”

After a one-day trial, the all-white jury convicted Brooks the same day of first-degree murder and three counts of armed robbery. A week later, Brooks received a sentence of life without parole for the murder conviction and concurrent sentences of 50 years for each of the armed robbery convictions. He was sent to the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.

Following his conviction, Brooks filed a direct appeal, represented by an attorney with the Orleans Indigent Defender Program. The Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed the conviction in 1980. For the next 39 years, Brooks, assisted by inmates at the Angola State Prison complex, filed more than 20 unsuccessful motions seeking to get his conviction overturned, challenging everything from the identifications made by the witnesses to the jury instructions.

On January 4, 2019, Brooks filed a new motion for post-conviction relief. He was now represented by Innocence Project New Orleans. The organization’s research and records requests had turned up several key pieces of evidence.

First, a note in the prosecutor’s file said that Brooks was not the source of any fingerprints found on the beer cans. Second, the testimony given by two of the witnesses about the white T-shirt was at odds with their statements to police and with the bulletin released by the police that mentioned a “tan short shirt.” Third, there was also no evidence in the police files that the witnesses had mentioned the marking on Brooks’s forehead prior to trial. This appeared to contradict their testimony.

In addition, The Welcome Inn robbers had likely committed another robbery that same night, an hour earlier and a block away. The victims of that robbery gave similar descriptions of the two men to police, and they did not identify Brooks as one of the robbers.

The motion said that prosecutors had failed to turn over the fingerprint evidence, which was exculpatory. Prosecutors pushed back, stating there was no proof this information wasn’t given to Taylor, who had died in 2003. In October 2019, they offered a deal to Brooks and his attorneys. The state would amend the murder charge to manslaughter, and Brooks would be released on time served if he pled guilty. He accepted the deal on October 15, 2019, and was released from prison the next day. He moved to Alexandria, Louisiana, and took a job as a dishwasher.

Leon Cannizzaro, the Orleans Parish District Attorney at the time, said the deal was fair and that Brooks’s conviction was just and proper.

“If he and his attorneys truly believed in his innocence, they could have pursued post-conviction claims,” he told the Washington Post. “Notably, they did not.”

In 2021, Jason Williams took office as the Orleans Parish District Attorney, replacing Cannizzaro.

Attorneys and investigators representing Brooks made another request for records related to his case. They discovered a memo written on Oct 2, 2019, that summarized a meeting that day with Boudousque and prosecutors about the fingerprint evidence in the Brooks case. In the memo, Boudousque said he didn’t believe he turned over the fingerprint evidence. He said that he didn’t think the evidence was exculpatory, because there was a question – based in part on a change to the police report after Brooks was arrested and his fingerprints were excluded as a contributor – about whether one or both robbers touched the beer cans. The memo said, in part:

“To Boudousque, the evidence was not exculpatory, and if he had believed it to be then he would have turned it over. Boudousque cannot say whether or not he turned it over, but he believes the defense would have likely tried using it if he had, and so it is likelier that he did not turn it over.”

Harry Daniels, Brooks’s attorney, filed a motion on December 9, 2021, asking the court to allow Brooks to withdraw his 2019 guilty plea, because it was made without full knowledge of the facts in the case.

“When the prior District Attorney’s Administration learned that the trial prosecutor had failed to turn over this fingerprint evidence, they offered Mr. Brooks the chance to leave prison alive, but never revealed the wrongdoing they had uncovered,” the motion said. “Instead, Mr. Brooks was forced to make an impossible choice between clearing his name or living his life outside the gates of Angola prison. Mr. Brooks’ guilty plea is constitutionally infirm due to the State’s withholding and the coercive nature of his plea agreement and must be withdrawn.”

Judge Nandi Campbell of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court granted the motion on April 28, 2022, and the state dismissed the charges that day.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 1/17/2023
Last Updated: 1/17/2023
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery
Reported Crime Date:1977
Sentence:Life without parole
Age at the date of reported crime:19
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No