After nearly 39 years behind bars, a New Orleans man is exonerated from a murder conviction
Moments before he approached the podium inside the Orleans Parish Criminal Court Thursday morning, Raymond Flanks’ shackles were removed. He was still in prison attire — an orange jumpsuit that, despite his tall and sturdy frame, hung slightly off of his body. He wasn’t expecting to wear it for long.
After spending nearly 39 years behind bars at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, Flanks walked out of the courthouse a free man. Flanks is Innocence Project New Orleans’ latest client to be exonerated. The organization and District Attorney Jason Williams’ new Civil Rights Division filed a joint motion to vacate Flanks’ conviction for the murder of 67-year-old Martin Carnesi in 1983.
In the courtroom, Flanks stared through thick-rimmed black frames at a TV screen that showed people attending the hearing via Zoom. On it, a woman identified as Carnesi’s granddaughter read a statement from her mother that said she did not believe Flanks is innocent. She described a life filled with pain and anxiety due to the loss of her father, a former Navy seal and owner of a locksmith business.
After a brief recess, Judge Rhonda Goode-Douglas agreed to vacate Flanks’ conviction. Soon after, he walked down the steps of the Orleans Parish courthouse with arms raised, wearing a black sweatshirt provided by IPNO staff that read “JUSTICE” across his chest in white letters.
Flanks, who has a degree from the theological school at Angola prison, said he asked his nephew what he prayed for during a family visit to the penitentiary, and his nephew had asked for justice. His prayer request was answered.
“Even though it was delayed justice, it was justice,” Flanks said. “Time and truth prevailed in this matter.”
Details of Flanks’ case
Flanks was arrested in December 1983 while fleeing an armed robbery of an A&P Food Store — a crime he does not contest. He was then accused of being responsible for a spate of armed robberies, including one that involved the murder of 67-year-old Martin Carnesi.
But some evidence didn’t line up. One of the robbery victims described the perpetrator as a man in his 30s with a small pug nose. Flanks was only 20 at the time, and his nose doesn’t match that description. In Carnesi’s murder, his wife, Faye, described her husband’s assailant’s car as old and light blue. Flanks’ car was light blue, but quite new, according to a press release from IPNO.
Faye Carnesi identified Flanks in a photo lineup, despite previously saying that the suspect had a white blotch on his face — which Flanks did not have. The press release said the detective in the case, John Dillmann, affirmed Flanks’ identification. Dillmann has since been linked to three other wrongful convictions that have been overturned.
Jim Williams, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted Flanks, has also been connected to three other wrongful convictions. Williams tried Flanks twice for Carnesi’s murder. An August 1984 trial ended in a deadlocked jury, but Flanks was later convicted in February 1985. Between the two trials, the state tested the gun that he was arrested with, finding that it was not the gun that was used in Carnesi’s murder. But according to Richard Davis, Flanks’ IPNO attorney, that information was not relayed to the defense team or the victim’s family — a clear violation of a Supreme Court precedent set in the 1963 Brady v. Maryland decision.
After his hearing, Flanks spoke with reporters on a number of topics, including the Carnesi family. Goode-Douglas ordered that he not contact the family. He agreed but said he keeps them in his prayers.
“I respect that family,” he said. “I have love for them, even though they may not feel that way about me.”
Flanks said he believes the unfair chance he was dealt was not by accident but instead is part of a system doing what it was designed to do by letting poor people of color slip through the cracks.
He also reflected on his new perspective as a free man.
“When I was incarcerated and I looked at the birds, it was as if the birds were incarcerated with me,” he said. “But today I saw birds on the way here, and the birds were free even before I was actually released.”
Flanks plans to seek re-entry services from The First 72+, a nonprofit which helps formerly incarcerated people access food, housing and employment after prison. He will live with his fiance outside of Orleans Parish. But on Thursday, he was looking forward to eating seafood with his family.