Court to be asked to re-hear case of man freed in 1980 death
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal appeals court will be asked to take a second look at a judge’s ruling that led to freedom last year for a man who spent 36-years in prison for a French Quarter murder, New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said Monday.
John Floyd, who has long maintained his innocence, was released in June after U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance said he must be freed or re-tried in the 1980 stabbing death of William Hines. On Friday a panel of the 5th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Vance. But the vote was 2-1 and District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said Monday that he will ask the appeals court to re-hear the case.
“While we believe this defendant may be rehabilitated, we also believe he was responsible for the murder of William Hines in 1980,” Cannizzaro’s emailed statement said.
Prosecutors have not objected to Floyd’s release during appeals. But they have said Vance’s ruling was erroneous and would set bad legal precedents regarding the strength of evidence needed to overcome time limits on appeals.
Even if the 5th Circuit were to rehear the case and overturn Vance, it’s not clear prosecutors will seek to imprison Floyd again. The court record notes that he had been offered plea deals in the past.
“We will decide that issue if and when it becomes relevant, but it is not relevant at this time,” Cannizzaro said in an email sent via his press office.
Floyd, whose case was handled by the Innocence Project New Orleans, confessed to two similar murders that happened days apart. The victims, Hines and businessman Rodney Robinson, were killed after apparently sharing a drink and having consensual sex with their attacker, according to the court record. Floyd later said he had been coerced into confessing by a detective who plied him with drinks and beat him.
A judge acquitted Floyd of Robinson’s murder, but convicted him in Hines’ death.
Among points noted in Vance’s ruling: police had early on suspected one killer committed both crimes; physical evidence indicated that a black man with a different blood type than Floyd, who is white, had killed Robinson; that a black man’s hair was recovered from the Hines murder scene. The credibility of Floyd’s confession in the Hines case was further undermined by new evidence of his limited mental capacity, she wrote.
Vance also said that evidence the defense could have used was withheld, including fingerprints from a whiskey bottle at the Hines crime scene that were made by someone other than Floyd or Hines.
Judges Rhesa Hawkins Barksdale and Stephen Higginson upheld Vance in Friday’s ruling. Judge Jerry E. Smith dissented with an opinion discounting the importance of the evidence and arguing that the other panel members were misapplying the law. None of the evidence cited was strong enough to overturn the judge’s verdict or the Louisiana Supreme Court’s ruling upholding it, he said.