A New Orleans man wrongfully convicted of rape as a teenager has finally regained his freedom after more than three decades behind bars. On Thursday (Aug. 25), a judge threw out the conviction, citing that key evidence proving Sullivan Walter’s innocence was never presented to the jury during his trial. That evidence consisted of semen and blood samples, clearing Walters of any involvement in the heinous incident.
“To say this was unconscionable is an understatement,” said Judge Darryl Derbigny. Walter, now 53, was just 17 years old when he was arrested in connection to the May 1986 rape of a woman. The victim identified Walter as the man who attacked her in a dark, unlit room seven weeks after the ordeal transpired.
Walter was tried as an adult in a trial that only lasted a day. According to the Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO), seminal fluids from the victim did not match Walter’s sample, yet the evidence went unseen during his trial and subsequent motions for new hearings. “The jury that convicted Mr. Walter did not learn of this and it has never before been fully presented to a court,” said the organization in a statement. On Twitter, the IPNO wrote, “This is the longest known wrongful incarceration of a juvenile in Louisiana history,” and the fifth longest in the country.
Today, IPNO client Sullivan Walter was exonerated after 36 years, 1 month, and 30 days incarcerated for a rape he did not commit. He was 17 years old at arrest, but prosecuted as an adult. This is the longest known wrongful incarceration of a juvenile in Louisiana history. (1/8) pic.twitter.com/mKzgyBdcYP
— IPNO (@_ipno_) August 25, 2022
The IPNO argued the evidence was not presented for decades “due to a combination of his trial attorney’s failure to effectively elicit this evidence from relevant witnesses and due to misrepresentations made by the police officer analyst who examined the seminal fluid in this case.” IPNO Legal Director Richard Davis said, “This is not just about individuals and their choices, but the systems that let them happen.” In the filings to have Walter’s conviction vacated, a report suggesting a comprehensive review of the state’s secretor test findings was also submitted in hopes that others who have been wrongfully convicted may also regain their freedom.