George Toca had just turned 17 when his best friend, Eric Batiste, was shot and killed by his partner during a botched armed robbery in New Orleans in 1984. George was arrested and convicted of the crime because an officer from their neighborhood, who knew Eric and George, assumed they were together. The two white witnesses spent less than a couple of minutes with the actual perpetrator. Their description of the gunman looked nothing like George but he was nevertheless identified when police showed his photo to them.
George and Eric’s families fought for over 30 years to overturn his wrongful conviction.
George was one of IPNO’s first clients. After years of working on the case, and doing investigation that George’s trial attorney never did, IPNO got George’s case back into court in 2004, armed with many witnesses who had known for years exactly who killed Eric. The court process moved at a glacial pace.
Meanwhile, in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Miller v. Alabama, held that mandatory life sentences for children convicted of homicide were unconstitutional. IPNO filed to also get George the benefit of this decision, but the State opposed it and George’s request was denied.
George then successfully filed a writ to the U.S. Supreme Court: George’s case was going to be the case that determined whether Miller would apply retroactively to those already serving life sentences who had been children when the murder occurred.
Then the State offered a plea to George that would guarantee his immediate freedom but would end the fight in the Supreme Court and require him to take responsibility for a crime he did not commit. George was devastated but he also knew that he had to come home. With a heavy heart, George agreed to plead guilty to a crime he did not commit.
On January 29, 2015, Judge Byron Williams vacated his murder conviction and George entered an Alford plea (a plea entered in an accused’s best interests but where he is not forced to admit guilt) to manslaughter and pled guilty to attempted armed robbery. He walked out of prison that night after 30 years into the arms of his family.