2 men exonerated in separate cases on same day in Louisiana

CHALMETTE, La. (AP) — Two men were exonerated in separate cases on the same day in Louisiana, allowing them to be released from prison after serving a combined 35 years behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit.

Jarvis Ballard and Darvin Castro Santos had their convictions overturned Aug. 2, according to Innocence Project New Orleans, which represented both men.

The nonprofit legal office said this is the first time it has exonerated two people in different cases simultaneously — and the first time that anyone has been exonerated in St. Bernard Parish.

“As far as we can tell, it’s unprecedented,” staff attorney Charell Arnold told The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate. “We’re always happy to get innocent people out of prison. We’re even happier when we can have two exonerations at the same time.”

District Attorney Perry Nicosia agreed to remedy the wrongful convictions after new evidence supported both men’s innocence claims.

Ballard and two others were convicted of breaking into a 60-year-old woman’s home and raping her in 1998, according to the news outlet. Ballard, 18 at the time of the crime, was sentenced to life without parole.

But his appellate attorneys said only the two other men’s DNA was found at the scene. Ballard’s trial attorney also never received key sheriff’s office reports that could have helped to disprove the state’s theory that there were three robbers, according to an affidavit. He was released after more than 23 years, Innocence Project New Orleans said.

Castro Santos was convicted of leading a botched armed robbery at a diner in 2009, the news outlet reported. He received a 40-year sentence and spent nearly 12 years behind bars.

Timesheets from a Houston job site placed him in Texas 18 hours before the crime, and an alternate suspect’s cellphone records showed the man traveling toward the restaurant with another convicted robber while Castro Santos was still working. His trial attorney failed to enter those records into evidence, however.

DNA testing after the trial found that zip ties and a money bag used during the robbery were touched by other people but not by Castro Santos.

“Our office will always protect the public and prove guilt when evidence of guilt exists,” Nicosia said in a statement. “However, when proof of innocence is shown I will follow through with administering justice and correcting past errors.”

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