NEW ORLEANS — Reginald Adams, unjustly imprisoned for 34 years, has settled his federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of New Orleans and Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office for an undisclosed sum.
In 1983, Adams was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the 1979 murder of Cathy Ulfers, the wife of a New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) policeman. After the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed his conviction, he was re-tried in 1990 for a reduced, second-degree charge for the same murder and was convicted again.
In 2013, the Innocence Project New Orleans began investigating the case. Both convictions were overturned in 2014 and Adams was released from prison.
Adams, who is now 69 years old, filed the civil lawsuit in 2015, against a number of defendants, including former NOPD homicide detectives Martin Venezia and Sam Gebbia, the City of New Orleans, former prosecutors Ronald Bodenheimer and Harold Gilbert, former Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry Connick and former NOPD detectives Frank Ruiz and Jerry Ursin.
The Innocence Project New Orleans sought to free Adams when they determined he had been railroaded by police who forced a false confession from him. Many facts that Adams “confessed” to were inaccurate, like the hair color and gender of the victim and what items were purportedly stolen.
“The thing that I think is very painful about Reginald’s case is that there were multiple opportunities for the district attorney to have corrected what happened, if they had done what they said they were going to do," Emily Maw, the director of the Innocence Project New Orleans, told the Louisiana Record. "For example, when Ulfers was convicted of killing his second wife they said, 'We’re going to open up those files and look back through them.' If they had done it, they might have spotted that there was something very, very wrong with what happened to Reginald Adams. So they either didn’t, or they did and they ignored it.”
The Innocence Project New Orleans helps inmates who are wrongfully imprisoned.
Maw said the settlement with the City of New Orleans was a good outcome.
“I think that given the reality of the suit and the challenges it was probably a good outcome," she said. "The idea that a six-figure sum could possibly compensate a person for years of unlawful imprisonment is absurd. In that case, it was obviously particularly egregious case, a particularly flagrant framing of an innocent man.”
May said Adams’ race, who is African American, was a big part of why he was unjustly imprisoned.
“It is much easier to willfully disregard or negligently disregard a person’s humanity if you live in a place where for decades and decades—really for centuries—a propaganda machine has portrayed that person as less human than you," she said.