Man Wrongfully Convicted for Rape Released After 36 Years | He Was 17 Years Old at the Time of Arrest

Man Wrongfully Convicted for Rape Released After 36 Years | He Was 17 Years Old at the Time of Arrest

"This is the longest known wrongful incarceration of a juvenile in Louisiana history and the 5th in U.S. history."

Trigger Warning: The following story contains details of sexual assault that might be disturbing for readers.

A Louisiana man was exonerated after serving more than 36 years in prison for rape.

Sullivan Walter, 53, was 17 years old when he was arrested for the crime but he was tried as an adult, according to an Instagram post by Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO). The post caption reads, "This is the longest known wrongful incarceration of a juvenile in Louisiana history and the 5th in U.S. history."

According to a motion to overturn his conviction, Walter was accused in September 1986 in connection with a house invasion and rape in New Orleans. According to court filings, a lady known as "L.S." was having a shower when she noticed a man enter her residence wearing a backward baseball cap and concealing his lower face with a washcloth. At knifepoint, the guy pulled a shirt over her face and led her to an "empty unlit bedroom" where he raped her, reports CNN.



The victim recognized Walter seven weeks after the incident. IPNO investigated Walter's case and revealed that, while serological tests in the 1980s showed that Walter was not the perpetrator, the jury that convicted him was unaware of this. 

The police officer analyst allegedly misrepresented the results of his tests, and his trial attorney failed to obtain this information from witnesses. Walter's trial was merely one day long. Walter went through multiple appeals, but according to court documents, he had no legal representation from 1997 until October 2021.

IPNO attorneys took his case and "worked with an expert to analyze the serological evidence." The results eliminated Walter as the perpetrator of the crime. They presented their finding to Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office Civil Rights Division (CRD) and both, IPNO and CRD moved for Walter's conviction to be vacated.



They added in their Instagram Post, "An expert report attached to the joint filing describes problems with the testing in Mr. Walter’s case and 'disingenuous at best' police testimony." They continued, "The report also observes 'systematic deficiencies' in serological testing performed by the NOPD and Coroner’s Office during the 1980s and early 1990s and suggests 'a comprehensive review of every case in Orleans Parish in which ABO/secretor test findings and testimony may have figured in the conviction of a defendant.'"

Walter's attorneys and the Orleans Parish District Attorney raised doubts about the accuracy of L.S.'s eyewitness identification in their motion to vacate. The victim was "being asked to make a cross-racial identification of someone who at all the times that she could observe him was either masked, in an unlit room at night, and/or threatening her not to look at him."



The motion to vacate also states that the findings do not mean that the victim was "dishonest in her identification" and does not invalidate her and her family's trauma related to the assault. "Rather, it should be recognized that the tragedy of her assault is, in fact, magnified by the fact the true perpetrator was not apprehended and may have victimized others," they added.

Walter's attorney, IPNO Legal Director Richard Davis said, "This is not just about individuals and their choices, but the systems that let them happen."

The victim has since died and her family has been informed about the issues in the case and the reasons why Walter's conviction is being vacated. Walter's convictions for aggravated burglary, aggravated crime against nature, and being a habitual offender have all been vacated.

"Mr. Walter suffered a terrible injustice and, though this office rectified it promptly when it was brought to our attention, it is a tragedy that it took the legal system so long to do so. We are working every day to prevent such avoidable tragedies from happening again," Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams told CNN in a statement.




Cover Image Source: Innocence Project New Orleans/Instagram