NEW ORLEANS — For more than 30 years an innocent man was held behind bars for a crime he didn't commit. On Thursday he was released.
Sullivan Walter was convicted of forcible rape. He was arrested six weeks after the crime, and his arrest was based on one composite drawing of a photo lineup. Police didn’t once ask him for an alibi. At trial, he was found guilty based on witness testimony.
Mr. Walter said, “In 1986 I was falsely accused and tried and convicted for a rape that I didn’t commit.”
He went on to say, “The day of my sentencing was devastating…. From the time I was pronounced guilty it was devastating… I was devastated by the sentencing, I was devastated by being transported to the maximum security prison.”
He spent 12 years in Angola, and the rest of his time was spent in Elayn Hunt Correctional Center.
Mr. Walter said, “I was angry because, I dint quite understand why me, I asked the questions, why me, why did this happen to me.”
36 years later, he’s a free man, and less than 24 hours after being released he sat down with Eyewitness News, Walter saying, “I was unable to breathe, as if my breath was taken away for 36 years of my life, the moment I was released when I walked out the gates, I really felt I was able to breathe once again.”
His attorney, Richard Davis with the Innocent Project New Orleans says the crime happened in the Irish Channel, but Sullivan stayed in Uptown.
Davis said, “A police officer believed that Sullivan Walter resembled that composite drawing. As a result, he was put in a photo lineup, which was shown to the victim and she identified him and that was entirely the case against him.”
He went on to say, “The police had evidence that the person who had actually done the rape was seen hanging out in the area, around the time of the crime. That was not his neighborhood and no means of transport, it didn’t really make sense for him to be the perpetrator.”
The only evidence Davis said was, “The person who committed the rape wore a blue hat, Sullivan Walter owned a blue hat, that was presented as evidence against him, and nothing distinctive about the hat, like a brand or a writing, just a blue baseball cap.”
All Sullivan wants now is to live his life, and accountability be taken for this mistake that cost him 36 years.
“So many years had passed me by and I have almost lost hope and I didn’t think anything would ever happen because I felt I was going up against a giant," he said.