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After nearly 40 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit, Raymond Flanks was exonerated and is now a free man.
Flanks – who was then just 20 years old — was arrested two days before Christmas in 1983 for the murder of Martin Carnesi.
The Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO) determined that Flanks, now 59, was wrongfully convicted because evidence that might have cleared him was withheld from his attorneys. The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office agreed and filed a joint motion earlier this week in conjunction with IPNO to have Flanks’ conviction overturned.
A state judge approved the motion Thursday morning.
On the morning of December 17, 1983, Faye Carnesi was walking to her car — parked in front of her house — when a Black man in a shower cap walked by, according to the joint motion to vacate filed with the courts and reviewed by Oxygen.com. When her husband, Martin Carnesi, came out to say goodbye, the man demanded money from him, according to court documents.
Martin Carnesi reached into his pocket to retrieve the money, but the man in the shower cap pulled out a gun and shot him. The suspect then pointed the gun at Faye Carnesi and demanded her purse. She threw the purse at him and ran away to get help.
When Faye Carnesi was eventually able to give a statement, she described the killer as a Black man in his late 20s with a thin mustache and a "little white blotch on his cheek." She also said she saw the man, from behind, pull away in an older, light blue car.
There were at least five other armed muggings of elderly people in the area by a Black man wearing a shower cap, including one after the Carnesi murder.
Flanks was arrested on Dec. 23,1983 after fleeing an armed robbery at a local supermarket. He was 20 years old at the time — though Mrs. Carnesi said the killer was older — was not clean-shaven and did not have a thin mustache. He also drove a nearly brand-new light blue car. He was carrying a handgun at the time of his arrest, which belonged to his brother.
“It was his December 23 arrest for armed robbery that led police to Mr. Flanks as a suspect in the Carnesi robbery and murder and other robberies in the area,” IPNO Attorney Richard Davis and Assistant District Attorney Brandan Bonds wrote in the joint motion to vacate Flanks conviction.
After his arrest, Mrs. Carnesi was asked to look at a photo array, according to the motion and her initial grand jury testimony. She originally testified that, upon seeing the photos, she thought two might resemble the man but neither had the white blotch. She then testified that the detective in the case, John Dillman, shook his head and that, "That's him," to her, and she ultimately decided it must be him.
Flanks was tried murder in August 1984, but his trial ended in a hung jury. After his mistrial, Flanks' defense successfully petitioned to have the gun with which he was arrested evaluated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Forensic Laboratory. They determined that it was not a match for the gun that killed Martin Carnesi.
Flanks was tried again in 1985 on the strength of the witness identification — and Mrs. Carnesi's testimony was substantially different than it had been in front of the grand jury. She testified that she not only recognized Flanks right away, but the detective had not guided her identification at all.
Flanks was convicted.
After his conviction, Flanks tried on multiple occasions to have his conviction overturned but was unsuccessful. Last year, the Innocence Project New Orleans began investigating his case and uncovered the grand jury evidence as well as other discrepancies that raised doubts about the evidence used to convict Flanks. The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office also agreed to review the case.
“Given that Mr. Flanks was 20-years old, had no white blotches on his face, and drove a new car, these were important discrepancies,” Davis and Bonds wrote in the motion. "In this case, which relied on a single eyewitness, competent counsel armed with favorable evidence would have been able to present a compelling case that Mrs. Carnesi was innocently mistaken when presented with the wrong suspect, that Mr. Flanks did not resemble the perpetrator and that the car he was arrested in did not fit the one at the crime scene.”
But Dillman, it turned out, had altered his own reports to keep much of that information from coming to light. He claimed that Mrs. Carnesi told him she had seen a much younger man without the "white blotch," a much newer car and a different kind of gun.
INPO noted in a press release that the Orleans Parish has the highest known wrongful conviction rate in the country and that over 70 percent of those cases involve withheld evidence, according to records from the National Records of Exonerations. Nearly 96 percent of the withheld evidence cases were wrongful convictions of Black defendants.
The press release also noted that Dillman and the original prosecutor in the Flanks case have both been implicated in three other wrongful convictions.
Carnesi’s family, however, still maintains that Flanks is guilty, the Washington Post reported.
“I’m still as angry as the day it happened,” Martin Carnesi’s daughter, Debra Carnesi Gonzales, said in a statement read via Zoom by her daughter, Casey Gonzales. “I don’t believe my mother was mistaken.”
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