By Matt Sledge |

After serving a combined 35½ years in prison, two men were freed from Louisiana prisons this week after St. Bernard Parish District Attorney Perry Nicosia conceded they had been wrongly convicted.

The unusual developments, in separate cases overseen by Nicosia’s predecessor Jack Rowley, were a first for St. Bernard Parish, but they follow dozens more convictions across Louisiana that have been overturned after fresh claims of innocence.

Nicosia said new evidence supported one man’s claim that he was wrongly convicted of raping a Violet grandmother in 1998, and another man’s claim that he was falsely identified as the leader of a botched armed robbery in 2009. Both men were represented by the non-profit Innocence Project New Orleans.

“As far as we can tell, it’s unprecedented,” said Innocence Project staff attorney Charell Arnold. “We’re always happy to get innocent people out of prison. We’re even happier when we can have two exonerations at the same time.”

Prosecutors dismissed charges in both cases and have indicated that they don’t intend to prosecute them again, Arnold said. She praised Nicosia’s office as a “model” for its swift action, but a robbery victim criticized the DA’s decision.

Within hours of his release on Tuesday, Jarvis Ballard met with his mother for the first time in years. He also visited with Jerome Morgan, another former prisoner from the New Orleans area who fought a long battle to have his charges thrown out. Books about wrongfully convicted men helped Ballard get through his prison years, Arnold said.

Meanwhile, fellow exoneree Darvin Castro Santos was enjoying the fresh air, she said.

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