NEW ORLEANS — Attorneys at the Innocence Project New Orleans claimed that their case for Kaliegh Smith being wrongfully convicted in a 2007 murder was overwhelming. The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office agreed Monday, blasting the previous administration for railroading Smith and paving the way for his immediate release.
After a Zoom court hearing Monday morning before Judge Robin Pittman, attorneys and staff at IPNO were barreling up to Angola State Penitentiary by mid-afternoon to greet Smith at the prison’s main gates.
In an appeal filed last fall, Smith’s attorneys presented DNA evidence excluding Smith as the killer, the recantation of a key witness, and evidence they say was illegally hidden by prosecutors. Smith, 49, was convicted in 2010 in the fatal shooting of 27-year-old Jason Anderson on Gervais Street.
Smith had been locked up since his arrest. He was convicted in by a non-unanimous jury verdict, something that has since been ruled unconstitutional. IPNO’s 57-page petition stated that not only did the lone eyewitness recant, but she was paid thousands of dollars in rent benefits by the DA's office, something that is not illegal but was kept secret.
The appeal also cited newly-obtained DNA evidence from the shirt of the murder victim that excludes Smith as the killer.
Pittman granted Smith a new trial at a hearing in May, but at Monday’s hearing, prosecutors agreed that he had been wrongfully convicted based on prosecutorial misconduct, dropping all charges and exonerating Smith.
“Mr. Smith would have been acquitted in 2010 if it was not for prosecutorial misconduct at his trial,” lead defense attorney Richard Davis said.
Co-counsel Meredith Angelson said, “The prosecutorial misconduct in this case is unusually well documented. The misconduct is indefensible and led to an innocent man losing years of his life in prison.”
Smith was convicted under former District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro. Current DA Jason Williams, who replaced Cannizzaro by promising a more open-minded approach to innocence claims, blasted his predecessor in an emailed statement.
“In 2010, the previous administration violated the United States Constitution by not disclosing all relevant favorable information in trial proceedings and thus secured a wrongful conviction against Kaleigh Smith for the murder of Jason Anderson,” Williams stated. “Fast forward 11 years, because of that Constitutional violation, the original conviction of Mr. Smith cannot stand and the people of this city continue to have to grapple with this office’s long history of Brady violations.”
Brady refers to the law that requires prosecutors to share all information in its possession to the defense before trial.
“Prosecutorial misconduct serves no one, especially not the victims and their families or the police officers who did their best to investigate this murder when it occurred,” Williams continued.
IPNO said Smith’s release will be bittersweet. The office said Smith’s mother died a few years ago while waiting for her son’s claims of innocence to be considered.
IPNO Director Jee Park said Smith’s case marked the organization’s 37th exoneration, giving Louisiana one of the highest per capita rates of wrongful convictions in the country.