June 14, 2021
Contact: Cat Forrester
CatF@ip-no.org | 504.330.2111
IPNO CLIENT EXONERATED AFTER 13 ½ YEARS OF
NEW ORLEANS – Today, Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO) client Kaliegh (Ka-lie-ja) Smith was exonerated. Mr. Smith has been in prison since October 2007—13 ½ years—for a murder he did not commit in New Orleans. He was convicted of second-degree murder in 2010 by a non-unanimous jury verdict. He is innocent of this crime. He is expected to be released later today to his loving family. His mother who always believed in her son’s innocence died a few years ago, marking Mr. Smith’s much awaited homecoming bittersweet.
Mr. Smith was convicted based on the false testimony from the State’s “essential” eyewitness in the case. This witness was untruthful at trial and a majority of the jurors unfortunately believed her. The prosecution had in their possession and knowledge many reasons why the jury should have doubted their key witness’s testimony, but they failed to disclose this information to the defense as they are required under the law. Not only did the prosecution fail to provide favorable, exculpatory information to the defense, but they also failed to correct their witnesses’ false testimonies at trial as required under the law.
Through investigation, IPNO learned and presented to the court that the prosecution’s “essential” witness—the only witness to the murder to identify Mr. Smith—testified against Mr. Smith only when she was receiving secret financial benefits from the prosecution. On at least half-a-dozen other occasions, including in a sworn affidavit, she repeatedly stated that Mr. Smith was not the shooter.
IPNO also learned through investigation that three witnesses independently implicated another person of the murder to law enforcement, but this critical information favorable to Mr. Smith was hidden from Mr. Smith. This person named by credible sources as the actual shooter matched the description of the perpetrator far better than Mr. Smith, had been implicated in at least two other shootings in the area, and was known to police as a hitman.
Additionally, Mr. Smith was excluded as the source of DNA left on the victim’s shirt where the perpetrator of the crime was seen grabbing the victim by his t-shirt prior to killing him. The true perpetrator left his DNA on the t-shirt and that DNA does not match Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith was represented by Richard Davis, Meredith Angelson and Kiah Howard of IPNO.
On May 10, 2021, the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office (OPDA) correctly admitted that prosecutorial misconduct in this case meant that Mr. Smith’s 2010 conviction must be vacated. Judge Pittman vacated Mr. Smith’s conviction on May 27, 2021. Today, OPDA correctly dismissed all charges against Mr. Smith.
Richard Davis says: “Mr. Smith would have been acquitted in 2010 if it was not for prosecutorial misconduct at his trial. The lead trial prosecutor, Myles Ranier, was personally aware of the secret financial benefits for his star witness, evidence that his witnesses were giving false testimony, and evidence implicating another man in the crime. He had to turn this evidence over to the defense, but he chose not to.”
Meredith Angelson says: “The prosecutorial misconduct in this case is unusually well documented. The misconduct is indefensible and led to an innocent man losing years of his life in prison.”
Jee Park, director of IPNO says: “With Mr. Smith’s exoneration, IPNO has freed and exonerated 37 individuals who were factually innocent and wrongfully imprisoned. Orleans Parish has the highest per capita exoneration rate of any county in the country. In nearly 80% of exonerations from New Orleans, favorable, exculpatory evidence was hidden from the defense and prosecutors committed misconduct in nearly 90% of those cases. For decades, concealing exculpatory evidence by law enforcement and prosecution in New Orleans has been the routine. We look forward to heightened transparency and accountability with the current OPDA administration as we work to undo overdue past harms and injustices.”
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.