Exonerated April 28, 2022

Incarcerated 42 years, 2 months, 27 days

On October 15, 2019, Elvis Brooks accepted a plea agreement to secure his immediate release from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Mr. Brooks was wrongfully incarcerated for over 42 years—since his arrest as a teenager in 1977. He was released into the arms of his loving family, who remained by his side over these many difficult years.

Late in the evening of July 1, 1977, the Welcome Inn bar in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans was robbed by two armed men and a bar patron was killed. Weeks after the crime, Elvis Brooks became a suspect because he was an African American man who lived in the area. He was identified in a photo array by three white strangers who had been inside the dimly lit bar.

During the crime, the robbers touched two beers cans inside the bar and left them on the counter after they fled. Investigators from the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) collected and fingerprinted these beer cans as evidence. Police also linked an armed robbery that happened within a block of the bar less than an hour before the Welcome Inn crime as having been committed by the same perpetrators.

Within three months of his arrest, Elvis Brooks faced a capital trial. The three cross-racial identifications were the only evidence presented against Mr. Brooks. At an earlier hearing, one of the eyewitnesses could not even positively say that the defendant present in court was the same man depicted in the photograph the witness had identified.

Left to right: IPNO investigator Jack Largess, Aaron Brooks, Elvis Brooks and IPNO attorney Charell Arnold

In contrast to the weakness of the State’s case, Mr. Brooks presented twelve alibi witnesses at his trial. These witnesses testified that Mr. Brooks was at home at the time of the crime and gave specific information about what Mr. Brooks had been wearing and doing during the specified time. Though spared the death penalty, Elvis Brooks was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in a trial that lasted less than a day.

New investigation into Mr. Brooks’ case revealed exculpatory evidence that was never known by Mr. Brooks or his attorney. Fingerprints on the beer cans held by the robbers did not belong to Elvis Brooks and the police and prosecutors knew this when they tried Mr. Brooks. Additionally, police knew that the African American victims of the armed robbery directly prior to the Welcome Inn crime did not identify Elvis Brooks as one of the men who robbed them. On the basis of this evidence, Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO) filed an Application for Post-Conviction Relief in January 2019 alleging Brady violations and detailing Mr. Brooks’ actual innocence claim.

The State raised procedural objections to Mr. Brooks’ claims and the matter was set for a hearing in Section G of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court on October 15, 2019. Prior to this hearing, the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office approached Mr. Brooks and offered him a plea deal, allowing him to vacate his first-degree murder conviction and plead to lesser crimes. This plea agreement allowed Mr. Brooks to be resentenced to time-served and entitled him to immediate release.

Charell Arnold, one of Mr. Brooks’ attorneys at Innocence Project New Orleans, says: “Elvis Brooks was wrongfully convicted and it is wonderful that he is being reunited with his family after 42 years.” She added, “Mr. Brooks never sought a plea agreement. It is deeply unfair that an innocent man would be forced to choose between entering a plea to secure his immediate freedom and waiting years more in prison to prove his innocence through litigation. This situation is particularly unfair given that the State has known about the new evidence presented in this case since 1977.”

With the help of pro bono counsel Harry Daniels, Mr. Brooks’ plea was vacated and he was finally exonerated of the murder-robbery of which he is factually innocent on April 28, 2022.