Kevin Desalle became the 64th person Centurion freed on September 24, 2020 when he was released from the Louisiana State Prison, a/k/a Angola where he had been imprisoned for 24 years serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for a murder he did not commit. Kevin was convicted in a one day trial by a non-unanimous jury of the shooting death of a man in the now razed St. Bernard’s Housing Project in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward on June 25, 1994. The State’s case was based on the testimony of a crackhead who came forward, expecting to receive reward money, six months after the incident claiming she witnessed Kevin shoot the victim.
Centurion was able to locate a witness to the shooting named in a police report, which surfaced for the first time in 2014 in response to a freedom of information request. According to the report the witness identified the shooter by name in a telephone call to the police within days of the crime as an individual known in the St. Bernard’s Housing Project as “Killer.” The witness after giving his information became fearful of retaliation against him and his family if it became known he was cooperating and he refused to meet in person with the police. The witness’s fears were not imaginary, Killer, who was known to always being armed shot and killed another man some months later and is currently serving a life sentence for that murder. Despite having the information that Killer shot the victim in Kevin’s case there is no record that the police or the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office did anything to investigate his involvement in the crime.
After years of litigation following discovery of the police report that went all the way up to the Supreme Court of Louisiana, an evidentiary hearing on Kevin’s claim that the prosecution suppressed the evidence of the witness’s phone call was ordered. Centurion was able to produce the witness, who was now confined to a wheelchair as the result of a car accident and living in Everett, Washington, for a court ordered videotaped deposition in January of this year. The witness’s deposition testimony was clear and unambiguous, after getting off a bus on his way home from work, he heard gunshots and a woman scream, and as he turned the corner where the shots and scream came from he saw the victim laying on the ground and “Killer,” gun in hand, run past him.
Almost immediately after obtaining the witness’s deposition the Covid-19 pandemic struck. The courts closed and scheduling and completing the in court evidentiary hearing became impossible. Meanwhile Kevin remained locked up in a prison ravaged by Covid-19 which by mid-July 2020 claimed the lives of eleven men serving life sentences. Further complicating matters was the knowledge that the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office would not concede the clear merit of Kevin’s motion, and that it would likely be able to keep him in prison for years while it appealed what Centurion believed would be a ruling overturning the conviction. The result was that Kevin felt he had no choice but to take a plea offered by the District Attorney to a reduced charge of manslaughter, under which he would be immediately released from prison on parole. The need to be reunited with his elderly parents and to extract himself from the life threatening conditions in the prison left him feeling he had no choice and he accepted the offer in order to get his immediate freedom. In taking the plea Kevin did not have to admit to doing anything, so he did not have to admit to shooting the victim when he didn’t.
Kevin’s case is a prime example of the cruelty and injustice in the criminal justice system, especially when it is controlled by a punitive prosecutor’s office that never admits its wrongs despite a long documented history of violating the rights of the citizens it prosecutes by suppressing exculpatory evidence. Despite having been presented with credible and compelling evidence of the identity of the actual murderer, evidence it did not disclose and never investigated, the State refused to concede the wrong and release Kevin, because it had the power to keep him in prison for several more years while it appealed his case. Instead, it would only agree that Kevin was entitled to his freedom on the condition that he plead guilty to a reduced charge.