News 01.30.15

Louisiana Man Enters Plea to Secure Freedom; Attorneys Insist on His Innocence

A 47-year-old Louisiana man who served nearly two-thirds of his life in prison for a crime that his lawyers say he did not commit has accepted a plea bargain with the local district attorney’s office in order to secure his innocence.

 

In 1985, George Toca, was convicted of second-degree murder with prosecutors claiming that he accidentally shot and killed his 16-year-old friend, Eric Batiste, during a botched hold-up in 1984 in which the two young men were attempting to burglarize a couple at gunpoint in a parking lot. Although Toca was only 17 years old at the time of the alleged crime, he was sentenced to life in prison.

The 

Times-Picayune

 reports that over the years, Toca has insisted on his innocence, claiming that another man is responsible for Batiste’s death. Even Batiste’s family has called for Toca’s release from Angola prison, but to no avail. Toca served 31 years in prison for a crime that both he and his lawyers at the Innocence Project New Orleans say he did not commit. 

His case has been the focus of national debate around whether courts should be allowed to sentence juvenile defendants to mandatory life in prison. According to the 

Times-Picayune

, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review Toca’s case after a 2012 ruling in which the high court said that juvenile defendants convicted of murder are allowed to argue for leniency and the possibility for parole during their hearings. The court also ruled that during sentencing, courts must take into account whether defendants were younger than 18 at the time of their crimes.

Finally after years of failed appeals, Toca struck a deal with Orleans Parish prosecutors, who agreed to vacate Toca’s murder charge based on his acceptance of a lesser plea of manslaughter and two accounts of attempted armed robbery. 

Toca’s lawyers said, according to the 

Times-Picayune

, “”Mr. Toca has already served 31 years wrongly imprisoned… . It is understandable and appropriate that he chose certain release from Angola prison over the uncertainty of continuing his legal fight.”

Although Toca will no longer be in prison, he will remain under the supervision of the state for the next 30 years.

 


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