Society

Innocent New Orleans Man Walks Free From Prison After 34 Years

| by Jonathan Wolfe

An innocent man held in the Louisiana prison system for 34 years walked free yesterday. Reginald Adams was granted his freedom after prosecutors confessed to misconduct during the trials that convicted him of murder in 1979.

Thirty-four years ago, Adams was convicted of killing Cathy Ulfers, the wife of then-New Orleans police officer Ronald Ulfers. Adams was convicted based on two things: the testimony of several New Orleans police officers, and a forced confession. Adams says detectives force-fed him drugs and alcohol during a four hour interrogation in which he ultimately felt he had to confess to the killing.

But there was a problem with his confession: it didn’t match the details of the crime scene. In addition, the detectives presiding over the case intentionally withheld key information from Adams’ defense team. Detectives Martin Venezia and Sam Gebbia failed to tell the defense that a weapon found matching the ballistics report was traced to two people other than Adams.

Despite knowing of other more fitting suspects, district attorneys Ronald Bodenheimer and Harold Gilbert went forward with their prosecution of Adams. He was convicted primarily on the grounds of his confession.

Three decades later, the New Orleans branch of the Innocence Project took up his case. They successfully showed that Adams was forced to confess to the crime during a corrupt interrogation. Innocence Project New Orleans Director Emily Maw asked the District Attorney’s office to review Adams’ case, and upon doing so the office learned that detectives purposefully withheld evidence from the court that would have cleared Adams as a suspect.

His conviction was overturned, and Adams is now a free man.

When asked how he felt walking free after three decades in the penitentiary, Adams said “like a champion.”

So who really murdered Cathy Ulfers? No one knows for sure, but her husband at the time – the former New Orleans police officer mentioned at the start of this story – may be a suspect. After Cathy Ulfers was killed, Officer Ronald Ulfers remarried. Five years later, he was convicted of killing his second wife.

Sources: NOLA, The Wire