Innocence Project New Orleans Exonerates Two Men in Different Cases on the Same Day
CHALMETTE – On August 2nd, in a historic occurrence, Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO) exonerated Darvin Castro Santos and Jarvis Ballard on the same day. These men were both wrongfully convicted in St. Bernard Parish and are the first two people ever exonerated from this parish. They spent a combined 35 1/2 years in prison for crimes they did not do. They are the 38th and 39th innocent people freed or exonerated by IPNO in our 20 years of existence.
Mr. Castro Santos was arrested on August 28, 2009, and released from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola on the evening of August 2nd. Mr. Ballard was arrested on January 10, 1998, and is expected to be released from the Elayn Hunt Correction Center at St. Gabriel on the morning of August 3rd. IPNO began representing Mr. Castro Santos in 2016 and Mr. Ballard in 2017.
Mr. Castro Santos was wrongfully convicted of participating in a 2009 armed robbery. He was misidentified by the victims, but cleared by DNA evidence, phone records, and strong evidence supporting his alibi that he was in Houston at the time of the crime. A cloud of racial bias infected his trial. Mr. Castro Santos’s father died while he was in prison, but he looks forward to being reunited with his teenaged daughter, mother, and other family members, who he has not seen since he was arrested. Mr. Castro Santos also looks forward to going dancing. Before his arrest, people called him Celia, because he danced as well as Celia Cruz.
Mr. Ballard was wrongfully convicted of participating in a 1998 rape. Two other men’s DNA was found at the scene of the rape and statements that the jury did not hear established that only two men committed the crime, so Mr. Ballard cannot have been one of the perpetrators. Mr. Ballard became the fictional third perpetrator of a two person crime. Mr. Ballard’s stepfather, the former Saints player James Haynes, died last year, but his mother and other family members are traveling to meet him and welcome him home. Mr. Ballard is an avid athlete and sports fan and looks forward to starting his own business.
Wrongful convictions have been overturned and innocent individuals freed from 15 different parishes across Louisiana. Wrongful convictions do not happen in a vacuum and are not anomalies. Our criminal legal system too often sacrifices accuracy and fairness over efficiency, and fails to deliver actual justice to poor, Black and Brown individuals and communities. Mr. Castro Santos’ and Mr. Ballard’s cases demonstrate our criminal legal system’s failures from law enforcement rush to judgement to racial bias. But for IPNO’s investigation of these cases and advocacy, Mr. Castro Santos and Mr. Ballard would have died in prison.
Though Mr. Castro Santos and Mr. Ballard were wrongfully convicted at different times in different cases, the two men became friends when they were incarcerated in the same dormitory at Hunt. The legal teams for both men were IPNO Staff Attorney Charell Arnold, Legal Director Richard Davis, and Investigator Jack Largess.
Ms. Arnold said “On August 2nd, DA Nicosia showed the kind of decisive leadership we hope for from every district attorney, when he agreed to remedy these two unjust convictions prosecuted by the prior administration.” Mr. Davis said “Never before has IPNO exonerated two people in two different cases on the same day. In fact, I don’t know of any legal team exonerating two people from two completely unrelated cases on the same day from the same parish. What happened to Mr. Castro Santos and Mr. Ballard were tragedies, and we are honored to work with them to win their freedoms.”
Members of the press are invited to join Mr. Ballard and Mr. Castro Santos along with their legal teams for a press conference in IPNO’s backyard on Tuesday, August 3rd at 4:30pm.
For those wishing to support Mr. Castro Santos and Mr. Ballard as they rebuild their lives:
Founded in 2001, Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO) frees innocent people sentenced to life in prison in Louisiana and south Mississippi at no cost to them or their loved ones. IPNO also supports their living well and fully in their world and advocates for sensible criminal justice policies that reduce wrongful convictions.
References to our organization can be abbreviated to IPNO, but never to Innocence Project, the name of a completely separate project based in New York that works nationally, of which IPNO is not a chapter, affiliate nor branch.