Louisiana man freed after prosecutors join defense team in overturning 1983 murder conviction

Attorney Richard Davis, left, of the Innocence Project New Orleans, stands next to Raymond...
Attorney Richard Davis, left, of the Innocence Project New Orleans, stands next to Raymond Flanks outside the New Orleans criminal courthouse on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. A judge vacated Flanks' conviction in a 1983 murder and set him free, ending his nearly four decades in prison, after prosecutors and defense lawyers agreed that evidence favorable to him was withheld from his attorneys in the 1980s.(Kevin McGill | AP)
Published: Nov. 17, 2022 at 12:05 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE/AP) - Raymond Flanks, who was convicted in December of 1983 for allegedly killing a man during an armed robbery, won his freedom Thursday (Nov. 17) after prosecutors joined defense lawyers in asking to have his murder conviction overturned.

According to the Associated Press, attorneys on both sides said evidence of inconsistencies in the only eyewitness’s testimony was kept from jurors when they convicted Flanks. Their joint motion to vacate his conviction was approved Thursday morning by a state judge.

Flanks has spent nearly four decades behind bars after he was convicted in the shooting death of Martin Cernesi during an armed robbery outside of the home he shared with his wife.

Carnesi’s wife, who is now deceased, identified Flanks as the killer, but her description of the suspect and the car he used differed at trial from statements she originally provided to police and a grand jury.

Faye Carnesi originally described the killer as having a white blotch on his cheek, being in his late 20s and driving an old car.

“Given that Mr. Flank was 20 years old, had no white blotches on his face and drove a new car, these were important discrepancies,” the motion seeking to have the conviction thrown out said. The information might have affected the jury’s decision, it said.

According to the motion, Flanks had been arrested for the armed robbery of a grocery store — he was later convicted and has not contested that verdict — when he was implicated in the Carnesi death.

Flanks was tried twice for the Carnesi killing. The first jury, in 1984, deadlocked even after being told the gun Flanks had when he was arrested for the grocery robbery was the murder weapon. That later turned out to be false, based on a 1985 examination of the weapon by a federal laboratory.

Prosecutors tried him again later in 1985, winning a first-degree murder conviction and life sentence.

“The parties agree that, in this case, which relied on a single eyewitness, competent counsel armed with the favorable evidence would have been able to present a compelling case that Mrs. Carnesi was innocently mistaken when presented with the wrong suspect,” the motion said.

The Innocence Project New Orleans, which advocated for Flanks’ release, noted that the case involved “cross-racial identification” (the eyewitness was white, the victim was Black) and said most wrongful convictions in New Orleans that involve withheld evidence involve Black defendants.

Flanks’ case was the latest in a series of conviction reversals sought jointly by District Attorney Jason Williams, who ran on a reform platform before taking office in January 2021, and criminal justice advocates. Williams has touted his office’s efforts to review longstanding convictions that resulted from nonunanimous jury verdicts, which are now illegal in Louisiana, and other dubious convictions from decades ago.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.