(NEW ORLEANS) — For 28 years, Kunta Gable, Leroy Nelson and Bernell Juluke were wrongfully imprisoned, convicted as teens for a fatal drive-by shooting in New Orleans that they did not commit.
The three men were finally freed Wednesday when a state judge vacated their murder convictions after prosecutors cited the interference of two notoriously corrupt police officers in their case.
Gable, Nelson and Juluke have reunited with their families and are now adjusting back to normal life.
Michael Admirand, Juluke’s attorney, said in a statement to ABC News that they are grateful to the court, the prosecutor and the District Attorney’s Office’s Civil Rights Division for their work in “correcting this grave injustice.”
“Mr. Juluke maintained his innocence from the moment of his wrongful arrest. I am relieved that he has finally been vindicated, if dismayed that it took so long,” Admirand said. “Nothing can make up for the three decades Mr. Juluke and his family lost because of his wrongful conviction, but thanks to the Court’s action yesterday, at least they will have their future together.”
Gable, Nelson and Juluke were arrested on Aug. 22, 1994, shortly after the shooting death of Rondell Santinac at the Desire housing development. Gable and Nelson were 17 at the time while Juluke was 18.
The state judge ordered the three men released, responding to a joint motion by a trio of defense lawyers and District Attorney Jason Williams’ Civil Rights Division.
After an extensive investigation by the division, which involved reviewing records and re-interviewing remaining witnesses, the motion outlined numerous flaws in the original case.
According to the district attorney, the state failed to disclose significant evidence that would have exculpated Gable, Nelson and Juluke, including a record of manipulating cases by investigating police officers, Len Davis and Sammie Williams, who were the first on the scene of Santinac’s murder.
Davis, who headed a small cadre of New Orleans police officers and their drug dealing operation, and Williams were infamous for tampering with murder scene evidence at the housing project to protect their network of local drug dealers and cover up the homicides they committed, according to the district attorney’s investigation.
Davis was even known as the “Desire Terrorist” for his dealings in the Desire and Florida projects, the motion said. He was later convicted for ordering the death of a woman, Kim Groves, because she had filed a complaint against him in a separate matter.
He was sentenced to the death penalty in 2005 and remains in federal prison.
Williams said in a statement to ABC News that Davis was widely known to have “wreaked havoc on marginalized New Orleanians.”
“There is extensive documented evidence that while operating under color of law he engaged in illegal drug trafficking, framed individuals who got in his way and even went so far as to order the murder of a private citizen who dared to report his systematic abuses,” Williams said.
Williams called it “unfathomable” that no agency had reviewed any of Davis’ cases during his “reign of terror” for 28 years until now.
The motion said the state also relied heavily on the testimony of their only eyewitness, Samuel Raiford, who claimed to be driving the vehicle with Santinac in the passenger seat. However, his statements, the motion said, were riddled with inconsistencies.
Still, prosecutors “vigorously defended” Raiford’s credibility, using it to undermine the defendants’ alibi witnesses as well as two additional witnesses claiming to have seen the crime and contending the defendants were not perpetrators, according to the motion.
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