Reginald Adams was convicted of killing Cathy Ulfers in 1979 in New Orleans, but after 34 years in prison, he was freed due to false testimony by police officers. Officers lied on the stand saying that a weapon and stolen jewelry had never been found and that no other suspects were investigated. The victim, Cathy Ulfers, was the wife of a New Orleans police officer. Adams falsely confessed to the crime during a 4-hour interrogation in which he was given drugs and alcohol. His confession did not match physical evidence.
In addition, police reports were never shared with Adams’ defense. They showed that homicide detectives Martin Venezia and Sam Gebbia, who investigated the murder, were aware of a weapon found that matched ballistics reports for the Ulfer murder. The weapon was traced to two other people.
“In one of the sad ironies of this case, the detectives, based on this discovery, performed a thorough follow up investigation that traced the weapon back to two individuals,” Christopher Bowman, a spokesman for the D.A. said, “The detectives questioned and searched one of the two individuals, and they discovered that he was in possession of a piece of jewelry that had been taken from the Ulfers’ home in the burglary.”
Adams was convicted in 1983 of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, but his conviction was overturned in 1989 by the Louisiana Supreme Court. He was retried in 1990 for second-degree murder and convicted.
Assistant District Attorneys Ronald Bodenheimer and Harold Gilbert prosecuted the case based entirely on the confession and told jurors no murder weapon was ever found. The joint motion says detectives “misrepresented that no evidence or other suspects had been found in the case until Mr. Adams confessed.” It also states then-prosecutors Ronald Bodenheimer and Harold J. Gilbert Jr. for making “materially false” responses to discovery requests made by Adams’ defense attorney.
In a statement, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said, Bodenheimer and Gilbert “were fully aware of the additional suspects as well as the recovery of the murder weapon and other physical evidence and that their handling of this case amounts to intentional prosecutorial misconduct.”
Bodenheimer, later became a judge in the 24th Judicial District and was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison after pleading guilty in 2003 to corruption charges.
Innocence Project New Orleans Director, Emily Maw, joined by attorneys Caroline Milne and Michael Magner, asked Cannizzaro’s office on May 2 to review the conviction. Cannizzaro called the actions of the detectives and prosecutors “shameful.”
“Not only did their intentional acts harm Reginald Adams, who was wrongfully incarcerated for more than three decades, but also it denied this community any opportunity to hold the real perpetrator criminally responsible for this violent crime.”
“I will not tolerate intentional misconduct on the part of police or prosecutors,”he said during a press conference following the hearing. He apologized to Adams, “I offer the apology both personally and on behalf of a much different office than the office that prosecuted you three decades ago, and denied your right to a fair trial.”
The defense and prosecution filed a joint motion for his release, asking Judge Laurie White to vacate his conviction.
“The evidence against Mr. Adams at both trials consisted exclusively of a confession to the murder, made to Detectives Martin Venezia and Frank Ruiz while Mr. Adams was in the custody of the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s Office,” the joint motion states, adding the confession was “in many ways inaccurate and inconsistent with the known facts of Cathy Ulfers’ murder.”
Ronald Ulfers, the victim’s husband, retired from the police department in 1989 and was a suspect in the murder, but was never charged. He was later convicted of murdering his second wife and sentenced to life in prison.