NEW ORLEANS (AP) An appeals court has handed another legal victory to a man who spent 36 years locked up for a New Orleans murder he insists he did not commit.
John Floyd was released last year after U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance’s 2016 ruling that he made a credible claim he was coerced into falsely confessing to two similar 1980 murders. A panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Vance with a 2-1 vote. In an order dated Monday, the appeals court rejected prosecutors’ request for a rehearing.
The killings occurred days apart and, Vance’s ruling noted, police had early on suspected one person committed both. Floyd, who turns 69 on Friday, was convicted in only one: the fatal stabbing of William Hines.
Prosecutors have not objected to Floyd’s release during appeals and it’s not clear that they would seek to imprison him again the court record includes notes that he has been offered plea deals. A former prison warden has declared Floyd, who admitted to abusing drugs at the time of his arrest, is rehabilitated.
But prosecutors 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 although he insisted on his innocence for years, the record indicates a proper appeal wasn’t filed until 2006.
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said earlier this year that said that, while Floyd may be rehabilitated “we also believe he was responsible for the murder of William Hines in 1980.”
Now Cannizzaro must decide whether to re-try Floyd, seek to reinstate his conviction at the U.S. Supreme Court, or end the prosecution. “We will decide our next course of action within the allotted 90 days,” Cannizzaro spokesman Ken Daley said in an email.
Richard Davis, deputy director of the Innocence Project New Orleans, which handled Floyd’s case, said it’s time to let it go.
“The federal courts have all found John suffered a miscarriage of justice. There is no good reason for this prosecution to continue even one day longer,” he said in an emailed statement.
Floyd had confessed to murdering Hines at the victim’s French Quarter apartment and businessman Rodney Robinson three days later at a downtown hotel. Both were killed after apparently sharing a drink and having consensual sex with their attacker, according to the court record. Floyd later said he was coerced into confessing by a detective who plied him with drinks and beat him.
Vance’s ruling noted evidence that Robinson was killed by a black man with type A blood. Floyd is white with type B blood.
Evidence in the Hines case has been lost over the years, but Vance said there were strong indications of Floyd’s innocence in that case as well, including “the striking similarity” between the Robinson and Hines slayings and the finding of African-American hair in the bed of Hines, who was white.