After 39 years behind bars, Black man walks free on overturned murder conviction

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys argued to overturn his conviction.

November 18, 2022, 1:09 PM

A man who spent almost 40 years behind bars had his murder conviction for a 1983 killing overturned Thursday.

"Even though it was delayed justice, it was justice," Raymond Flanks told reporters after he exited the courthouse. "Time and truth prevailed in this matter."

Prosecutors and defense lawyers joined together in asking for Flanks' conviction to be overturned. They argued that inconsistencies in the eyewitness testimony was kept from the jury that ultimately convicted Flanks.

Attorney Richard Davis, left, of the Innocence Project New Orleans, stands next to Raymond Flanks outside the New Orleans criminal courthouse, Nov. 17, 2022.
Kevin Mcgill/AP

According to the criminal justice group Innocence Project New Orleans, a man named Martin Carnesi was shot in his driveway during a botched robbery in 1983. The perpetrator was described by Carnesi's wife to have had a white blotch on his face and fled the scene in an old, blue car.

Flanks -- who drove a new blue car and did not have a white blotch on his face -- was arrested shortly after.

When Carnesi's wife showed the detective John Dillmann the discrepancy between her description and Flank's appearance, Dillmann reportedly shook his head and asserted that Flanks was the culprit, according to the Innocence Project, which works to free innocent people sentenced to "unjust sentences."

"Det. Dillmannn falsely testified that Ms. Carnesi told him the perpetrator's only notable facial characteristic was a mustache, that he did not do anything to influence her during identification, and that Mr. Flanks' car matched Ms. Carnesi's description," said the organization in a statement. This was kept from the jury.

The Innocence Project's legal team presented the hidden evidence to the Orleans Parish District Attorney Civil Rights Division, which was launched by District Attorney Jason Williams "to confront past harm and injustice," according to the DA's website.

Flanks thanked the organization for its work in getting him released.

"Effortless nights and waking up early in the mornings to investigate and to go get records, retrieve records that the jury has never seen or the victims family never seen," said Flanks. "Their efforts, this is why I'm able to be free today. I can look up in the sky and see the birds flying in a different way now."

When reflecting on the case, Flanks laments the racial injustice and inequality he says is inherently part of the criminal justice system.

Raymond Flanks talks to reporters outside the New Orleans criminal courthouse on Nov. 17, 2022.
Kevin Mcgill/AP

"I don't think the system is broken. I think the system was designed to do what it's doing. When men of my color, when men are in poverty, when men can't have the resources to get the representation they need; I think they're ignored," Flanks said.

Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country, according to research organization Prison Policy Initiative. The data shows that Louisiana's incarceration rate is much higher than that of other U.S. states and many other countries around the world.

Louisiana also has one of the highest exoneration rates in the country, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

According to the Innocence Project, Orleans Parish in Louisiana has one of the highest known wrongful conviction rates in the country. Over 70% of these cases involve withheld evidence, they say.

ABC News requested a comment from the Orleans Parish District Attorney's office regarding the high rate of wrongful convictions and is awaiting a response.

"When you're honest with yourself and you know that you're not guilty for a crime that you were accused of, it gives you a sense of hope because you know you didn't do it," Flanks said. "There's a seed in you every morning when you wake up and you know there's a God."