Isaac Knapper, at the time an Olympic boxing hopeful, was arrested in 1979 at age 16 for the murder of a tourist, Dr. Ronald Banks, in the French Quarter.
The case was investigated by Det. John Dillman of the New Orleans Police Department, later to be singled out for dirty investigation tactics by the United States Supreme Court in Kyles v. Whitley, Shortly after the murder, the police, for reasons not revealed in the record, searched for, and eventually arrested, Mr. Knapper and Leroy Williams. Both were indicted for first degree murder. Mr. Williams was offered a plea bargain, reducing the charge against him to manslaughter, in return for testimony against Mr. Knapper.
Mr. Knapper was found guilty of first-degree murder based on his similarity to the general appearance of the assailant ascribed by an eyewitness and the testimony of Mr. Williams.
After 12 years in prison serving a life sentence, Mr. Knapper used public records law to obtain a police report, authored by Det. Dillman and contained in the the District Attorney’s file, that showed the witness’s description of the gunmen was actually unlike that described at trial but that it matched the description of two gunmen arrested seven days later, five blocks away committing a robbery with the same gun as was used to kill Dr. Banks. The description of the clothing worn by the gunman also criticially impeached the testimony of the alleged co-perpetrator, Williams, against Mr. Knapper. The report had not been disclosed to Mr. Knapper’s attorneys at the time of the trial.
Laurie White, a New Orleans criminal defense lawyer, took Mr. Knapper’s case and won the reversal of his conviction based on the withheld evidence that showed his innocence. Mr. Knapper was released in 1991 just shy of his 30th birthday.
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