After 42 years in jail, New Orleans man pleads guilty for a chance at freedom

October 18, 2019 at 10:00 am | Crime News, News

Mohammed Awal

Mohammed Awal

October 18, 2019 at 10:00 am | Crime News, News

Photo credit: AP

A New Orleans man who maintains he was wrongfully incarcerated for 42 years has been freed.

Elvis Brooks was 19 years old when he was arrested in connection with a robbery case at a Lower 9th Ward bar that resulted in the death of a victim. 

Brooks would then be convicted on charges of first-degree murder and three counts of armed robbery, despite fingerprints on beer cans held by the robbers not matching his.

Brooks had been incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary until his release Wednesday, after agreeing to plead guilty to lesser offenses in the case that landed him there over four decades earlier.

Opportunity to be free paramount

Brooks was arrested in 1977 weeks shy of his 20th birthday and accused of murdering a man during a robbery mission. Now 68, he had spent most of his adulthood in prison for a crime he maintained he did not commit.

Regardless of the evidence that prosecutors deliberately hid information that would prove Brooks’ innocence – fingerprints on beer cans held by the robbers didn’t match his.

On Tuesday, Brooks pleaded guilty to manslaughter and three counts of robbery, making him eligible for immediate release after the state agreed that the 42 years, he had spent in incarceration amounted to time served.

“He is innocent and he has maintained his innocence all these years, but he decided this was best for him and his family at this time,” Charrell Arnold, who was Brooks’ attorney said.

“This was an incredibly difficult decision and one that was entirely up to him. […] Mr. Brooks is already 62 years old and has spent his entire adult life in prison. The opportunity to get out was paramount to him.”

Speaking to NOLA.com following his release, Brooks said it was painful being behind bars for wrongful conviction. 

“Yeah, it hurt. I didn’t do it. All these years on a mistaken identity, or whatever,” he said. “I just think they just picked me up and wanted to get rid of me. I wasn’t doing nothing like that on the street. … I think they just wanted to get rid of me,” he said.

Meanwhile, the prosecutors still held that Brooks committed the crime. According to District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, Brooks “committed a murder and multiple armed robberies in 1977, and his conviction and sentence we properly attained and affirmed through the course of several appeals.”

Prosecutors say they decided to show Brooks “mercy,” given his age and the length of time he was in prison.

“He’s 62 years old and still has an opportunity for a life,” Assistant District Attorney Donna Andrieu said.

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