Curtis Kyles

Exonerated: 
1998
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Curtis Kyles was 24 when he was arrested for a murder based on information given to police by someone who, evidence later showed, was likely the real killer. 

On September 20, 1984, 60-year-old Dolores Dye left the Schwegmann Brothers' store in New Orleans after doing some food shopping. As she put her grocery bags into the trunk of her red Ford LTD, a man accosted her and after a short struggle drew a revolver, fired into her left temple, and killed her. The gunman took Ms. Dye's keys and drove away in her car.

New Orleans police took statements from six eyewitnesses, who offered various descriptions of the gunman. They agreed that he was a black man, and four of them said that he had braided hair.

The State arrested Mr. Kyles based on information provided to them from an informant, Joseph “Beanie” Wallace. The informant identified himself as James Joseph and Joseph Banks (his real identity was later discovered). Beanie gave three very different statements to the police – the police neither noted the inconsistencies nor questioned Beanie about them. 

At trial, the State rated Henry Williams as its best witness. Williams testified that he had seen the struggle and the actual shooting by Kyles. The jury did not hear he had told the police that the assailant was "a black male, about 19 or 20 years old, about 5'4" or 5'5", 140 to 150 pounds, medium build" and that "his hair looked like it was platted (braided)."

Mr. Kyles was 6’, had a thin build and had “bush” style hair. However, Beanie closely matched the description given by Williams.

Mr. Kyles’s first trial resulted in a mistrial; his second resulted in a conviction and death sentence.

In 1995, 11 years after Mr. Kyles'  conviction and death sentence, his case was overturned by United States Supreme Court in Kyles v. Whitley. The Court found that the office of then-District Attorney Harry Connick Sr. had withheld crucial exculpatory and impeachment information from Mr. Kyles’ defense lawyers. The Court used the case to clarify that the duty of a prosecutor to turn over favorable evidence cannot be avoided by allowing the police to keep favorable evidence in their files and not inform the individual prosecutor. The case was widely considered to be a stinging rebuke to the practices of the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office and New Orleans Police Department.

The evidence withheld by the State from Mr. Kyles’s defense included: (1) the six contemporaneous eyewitness statements taken by police following the murder; (2) records of Beanie's initial call to the police; (3) a tape recording of the second statement given by Beanie; (4) the typed and signed (third) statement given by Beanie; (5) the computer print-out of license numbers of cars parked at Schwegmann's on the night of the murder, which did not list the number of Kyles' car (the prosecution had argued Kyles’ car was in the lot at the time); (6) the internal police memorandum calling for the seizure of the trash after Beanie had suggested that the purse might be found there and (7) evidence linking Beanie to another robbery at Schwegmann's and to the unrelated murder of one Patricia Leidenheimer, committed in January before the Dye murder.

Mr. Kyles was tried three more times after the court ruling, but each ended in mistrial. The State finally dropped the charges against Mr. Kyles after the fifth trial in 1998.

Further Reading:

Horne, Jed "Desire Street: A True Story of Death and Deliverance In New Orleans," New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2005

 
Angola Prision