Conviction Revisited; Witnesses Say Prosecutor Coerced Them to Lie
Nearly three decades after a New Orleans man was convicted of drug possession, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear arguments about overturning the conviction based on prosecutorial misconduct. Milton Isaac, who was found guilty of possessing 21 packets of heroin with the intent to distribute them in 1986, was sentenced to life, but has already been released on parole.
The Associated Press reported that two witnesses who testified for the prosecution now say that the prosecutors coerced them to lie in court. That prosecution was led by Harry Connick Sr., who the
Innocence Project New Orleans
says withheld evidence favorable to the defense in at least nine death row cases, including
who spent 18 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
According to Isaac’s attorneys, he wasn’t accused of being a drug dealer, but of planning to give the heroin to a friend who was said to be going through withdrawal. But former Assistant District Attorney Glynn Alexander said the amount of drugs found on Isaac warranted the distribution charge.
“The legal issues in this case essentially boil down to whether it is reasonable for Louisiana courts to deny claims before they are raised, to reject testimony they have never heard, and to determine that witnesses’ recantations are untrustworthy solely because they contradict earlier testimony,” Michael Admirand, one of Isaac’s attorneys, said in an email, according to the Associated Press.
During post-trial hearings in 2008, Isaac’s former girlfriend Carolyn Harris, and Edgar Barabino, whose house Isaac was at when arrested, testified that Alexander threatened them to lie. The judge ruled that the pair’s testimony was believable and that Isaac would not have been convicted if jurors heard about the coercion at trial.
Harris originally recanted in 2000, saying Alexander had offered her immunity from prosecution and had promised that Isaac would get no more than a 10-year sentence. Barabino followed suit in 2007, saying that a prosecutor threatened to bring drug charges against his family unless he cooperated. Alexander denied both claims.
The state appellate court overturned the favorable 2008 ruling and then the high court declined to hear the case.
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