Friday, December 30, 2011

Wrongly convicted of murder, man is rebuilding his life in New Orleans

A very common thread in cases of wrongful conviction - police and prosecutors hiding evidence of innocence.

Published: Sunday, December 25, 2011, 7:00 AM Updated: Sunday, December 25, 2011, 8:59 AM
By Jake Clapp, The Times-Picayune

In the past, when Greg Bright bought a vehicle, he took size into consideration. "I always went for bigger cars," Bright said. "Just because I wasn't sure if I would have to sleep in it at some point."

Now at 56, Bright is looking for a house in his native New Orleans. It will be his first permanent home in the eight years since being released from Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, where he and his co-defendant, Earl Truvia, spent 27 years for a murder they did not commit.

Bright and Truvia, 53, recently were awarded $190,000 each by the state under a Louisiana law that grants compensation to those wrongfully convicted. The compensation -- $150,000 in standard compensation and $40,000 in loss of life claims -- came after a four-year struggle with the state that ended in May.

"The compensation was much needed, to pay bills, debts, things I needed," Bright said. "But I've been frugal. I know that amount of money can go quickly if I don't use it wisely."

Bright and Truvia were given mandatory life sentences on July 29, 1976, for the second-degree murder of 15-year-old Eliot Porter. Porter's body was found underneath a building in New Orleans' Calliope public housing complex on Oct. 31, 1975. He had been shot twice in the head.

The two men were arrested at their homes on Nov. 15 after a witness claimed to have seen Bright and Truvia with Porter on the night of the killing, although there was no witness to the actual shooting. Bright said he had did not know the victim, the witness, nor his co-defendant beyond seeing them in the neighborhood.

The prosecution's case centered on the testimony of the single witness, while Bright and Truvia's defense never called witnesses that could have provided both men with alibis. The jury deliberated just 12 minutes before reaching a guilty verdict.

In the years after, Bright and Truvia tried to piece together a case for their innocence, but ran into a sea of red tape, until the Innocence Project New Orleans took their cases in 2001.

It came out that the original witness was unreliable and further evidence was not presented to the jury, including a coroner's report that placed the time of Porter's death significantly later than the time the witness heard gunshots. And there was an undisclosed police report that indicated two other likely suspects.

In February 2003, the Innocence Project helped Bright and Truvia present their cases and their convictions were overturned. The men walked out of prison free men on June 24, 2003. But the better part of their lives were lost and they were without money or jobs.



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