Man released from prison after almost 40 years, conviction overturned

Raymond Flanks' legal team and prosecutors agreed his lawyers were denied access to key evidence after he was charged in the murder of Martin Carnesi, who was shot to death during a 1983 robbery in Louisiana.

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A Black man incarcerated in Louisiana is free after 39 years after both the prosecution and his defense determined his attorneys were denied access to favorable evidence in the 1980s.

According to NOLA.com, a jury convicted Raymond Flanks of first-degree murder in 1985. This week, Judge Rhonda Goode-Douglas approved a deal for his release made between the office of Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams and Innocence Project New Orleans, Flanks’ legal team.

Williams’ office concurred that recently reviewed police reports and suppressed grand jury testimony cast doubt on Flanks’ guilt.

Raymond Flanks
Raymond Flanks reacts to his freedom after spending 39 years in a Louisiana prison in a murder case. His conviction was overturned this week after prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed key evidence favorable to him had been withheld from his lawyers. (Photo Credit: Innocence Project New Orleans)

Goode-Douglas agreed, apologizing to Flanks, 59, for being denied due process. She also praised him for his contributions to a reentry program for prisoners.

“I thank you very much,” said Flanks, NOLA.com reported. “I can’t express my gratitude. But this justice will not go in vain.”

Flanks’ conviction stemmed from crimes involving a Black gunman in a shower cap who targeted older women to stick up in New Orleans East during the Christmas season in 1983.

Police recorded four similar robberies over three weeks. Then came another on Dec. 17, which ended in the murder of Martin Carnesi. A Black man in a shower cap shot him during a robbery while his wife, Faye Carnesi, ran for help.

Police detained Flanks, then 20, five days later as he ran from an armed robbery at a food store. He appeared younger than the reported serial robber, but Faye Carnesi, the only witness to her husband’s murder, picked him out of a photo lineup.

She appears to have been mistaken, possibly with help from lead investigator John Dillmann, a former New Orleans homicide detective with a reportedly controversial history. The agreement alleges that grand jury transcripts show that Dillman altered Carnesi’s account about the perpetrator to match Flanks. Dillman said Thursday that he did not recall the case, according to NOLA.com.

Flanks faced two trials in the murder of Carnesi.

The first jury deadlocked in 1984, even after being told the gun Flanks carried when police arrested him for the grocery store robbery was the murder weapon. Based on a 1985 reexamination at a federal laboratory, that was determined to be false.

Flanks was tried again and found guilty of first-degree murder, receiving a life sentence.

Flanks’ attorneys pointed out that since the eyewitness was white and the suspect was Black, it entailed “cross-racial identification,” which multiple studies show is less trustworthy. They also argued that Black defendants had been the target of most false accusations in New Orleans.

Even though Flanks is a free man, members of the victim’s family continue to believe he is guilty. Faye Carnesi has since passed away, and Goode-Douglas declared that Flanks would not undergo a new trial.

The judge said that although she did not believe Faye Carnesi did anything wrong in giving her testimony, she did not think Flanks’ lawyers could mount a strong defense. She expressed regret to the Carnesi family for leaving them with an “open wound they will never be able to close” and thanked Louisiana for looking into the long-standing conviction and trying to make things right.

“As I was contemplating whether or not I should sign this agreement, I had to think back as to why I ran for office and why I’m seated here today,” Goode-Douglas said, according to NOLA.com. “It is this court’s opinion that Mr. Flanks did not receive justice he deserved…It is my hope that this court and section represent what justice should look like.”

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