Mike Perlstein, Eyewitness Investigates
NEW ORLEANS — Jerome Morgan is a busy man. On most days, he can be found going from posting signs at his advertising job, to cutting hair at a barbershop, to tutoring students at McDonogh 35.
But on some days, Morgan is pulled away from his jam-packed work schedule and dragged into court, where District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro maintains he is a killer.
The DA’s office has charged Morgan with second-degree murder in a fatal shooting of a 16-year-old boy at a birthday party in 1993.
For Morgan, 37, the case is like a recurring nightmare.
AFTER 20 YEARS IN JAIL, FINALLY FREED
Cannizzaro is prosecuting Morgan even though his previous conviction in the case disintegrated in 2014 after the two key witnesses in the case recanted, saying they were coerced by police into falsely fingering Morgan.
Jailed at age 17, Morgan spent more than 20 years behind bars before he was freed.
From the beginning, he maintained his innocence. Along with the witness recantations, Morgan’s defense team discovered a critical piece of evidence that had been withheld by prosecutors, leading District Court Judge Darryl Derbigny to throw out the conviction.
The fatal shooting of 16-year-old Clarence Landry took place inside a ballroom at a Howard Johnson’s hotel on Old Gentilly Road on May 22, 1993. According to police and court records, the killer fled, chased by another party-goer, Kevin Johnson.
“The jury did not hear the evidence that makes it almost impossible for Mr. Morgan to have been the gunman who fled the scene.” MORGAN’S ATTORNEYS WROTE
Johnson returned after the gunman escaped by jumping over a wall, and he quickly found himself in the ballroom with other teenaged guests, locked inside by a security guard. Also confined to the room was Morgan, who was helping another teenager who was wounded.
Police responded within six minutes and took the names of everyone locked down.
But documents that reveal the timeline showing the arrival of police was not turned over to Morgan’s defense attorney at the time of his trial.
“The jury did not hear the evidence that makes it almost impossible for Mr. Morgan to have been the gunman who fled the scene,” Morgan’s attorneys wrote in his successful appeal.
At trial, prosecutors argued that enough time had passed for the killer to flee the scene, then somehow return to the locked ballroom.
But bolstered by evidence that room was locked down immediately, Morgan’s attorneys summarized the implausibility.
In their brief, the attorneys at the Innocence Project New Orleans wrote, “The jury heard that 30 to 45 minutes passed between the shooting and arrival of police…The evidence shows police arrived six minutes after the shooting.”