Shareef Cousin was just 16 years old when he was sentenced to death for the 1996 Orleans Parish murder of 25-year-old Michael Gerardi. Mr. Gerardi was on a date with Connie Babin on the evening of the murder.
The State’s primary witness, Ms. Babin, who was not wearing her glasses at the time of the attack, had initially admitted to police that she could not identify the assailant. This statement was withheld from the defense until after the trial.
During the trial, despite her earlier statement, Ms. Babin told the jury she was “absolutely positive” that she had seen Mr. Cousin commit the murder. In an incidence of outright police misconduct, Detective Anthony Small also listed two additional witnesses that supposedly "positively" identified Mr. Cousin as the murderer, but were never called to testify. It later came to light that the detective lied to get an arrest warrant.
Mr. Cousin was playing in a videotaped basketball game shortly before the murder. It was highly implausible that he could have changed clothes and made it to the area where the crime was committed in time to perpetrate a murder. No physical evidence linked him to the crime.
Mr. Cousin’s death sentence made him the youngest person in the world on death row.
In 1998, Mr. Cousin's conviction was overturned by the Louisiana Supreme Court.
In 1999, after four years on death row, he was exonerated of all charges at the age of 20.
Mr. Cousin's prosecutor, Roger Jordan, was disciplined by the Louisiana Supreme Court for his misconduct in this case and given a three month suspension that was suspended as long as he did not commit any further prosecutorial misconduct.
After his exoneration, Mr. Cousin attended Morehouse College in Atlanta.