On January 17, 2014, Jerome Morgan’s murder conviction was overturned. Two weeks later he walked out of prison after spending 20 years incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit. However, he remained accused of that crime and lived in a state of pre-trial limbo with restrictions on his freedom until May 27, 2016 when the state finally dismissed the charges and he was fully exonerated.
In 1993, Jerome was wrongly arrested at age 17 and prosecuted for the murder of Clarence Landry, III at a sweet sixteen birthday party held in the ballroom of a New Orleans hotel. A fight broke out between two groups of boys at the party. Shots were fired and three teens were hit—two survived, but 16-year-old Clarence Landry died on the scene. By all accounts, the gunman fled the ballroom immediately after the shooting and was chased down the street to an alley where he jumped over a fence. When the police arrived, they sealed the room, and the detectives took down the names of everyone in the room, including Jerome, whose name was listed by the detectives in their report.
Jerome was prosecuted based upon the identification testimony of two teenaged witnesses, one of whom had previously told the police it was definitely not Jerome. Post-conviction investigation by Innocence Project New Orleans revealed that the prosecutors had in their file a complaint history that proved that it took police a mere six minutes to arrive after the shooting, not 30 to 45 minutes as the jury heard. This made the already questionable theory that the gunman, after successfully fleeing from the crime scene, returned to a room of over 80 witnesses, even less likely—there simply was not enough time for the gunman to flee, run down the street to an alley, jump over a fence, hide the murder weapon, and return to the scene of the crime unnoticed before the police arrived and sealed the room. The teenaged witnesses also admitted in 2013 that the detectives had told them to name Jerome Morgan; one of several people about whom rumors were circulated among high school students in the months after the shooting.
Based on both the discovery of the complaint history and the recantation of the two teenaged witnesses, Jerome was freed on bond February 4, 2014 and granted a new trial. For two years after his conviction was overturned, IPNO fought to clear Jerome’s name while the District Attorney first fought the ruling overturning his conviction, and when unsuccessful, fought to re-prosecute Jerome in spite of the clear evidence of his innocence. Meanwhile, since his release in 2014 Jerome has worked full time, mentored high school students at McDonough 35 and won a Propeller grant to help his effort to set up a barbershop through which he mentors teens. On May 27, 2016, the Orleans Parish District Attorney dismissed the second degree murder charges against Jerome, and he was finally exonerated.
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