By: Marlene Martin
Shareef Cousin, who was sentenced to death in 1995 at the age of 16, is now off death row. Just three days before his new trial was to begin in January, the New Orleans D.A’s office dropped the murder charges against Shareef.
The prosecutors tried to send Shareef to his death when they knew full well that he was innocent. Shareef was convicted of murdering Michael Gerardi, who was killed as he left a New Orleans restaurant with his date at 10 p.m. But at the time of the murder, Shareef was playing in a league basketball game that started at 9:30 p.m. There was even a videotape of the game which was shown at Shareef’s trial. But prosecutors altered the video to indicate that the game ended at 9:30 p.m.
Three of Shareef’s teammates came to the trial to testify that they were playing basketball at the time of the murder. But Shareef’s lawyers were unable to find the three in the hallway outside the courtroom when it came time for them to testify. Prosecutors had shuffled them across the street to the D.A.’s office to wait – supposedly because it was air-conditioned. Yet the trial took place during one of the coldest Januarys in New Orleans history.
Prosecutors also set up the main witness to lie on the stand and finger Shareef. Three days after the murder took place, Connie Babin, Gerardi’s date for that night, told police during a taped interview: “It was dark, and I did not have my contacts nor my glasses, so I’m coming at this at a disadvantage.” But the jury never knew Connie said this – prosecutors kept it a secret. All they heard was Connie testifying at trial that she was “100 percent, absolutely sure” that Shareef was the killer.
As a result of this frame-up, Shareef Cousin was sentenced to death at the age of 16. “Knowing I’m on death row for something I didn’t do is pretty hard,” Shareef wrote three years later. “You picture yourself being executed. You think about what your next life will be like… What did I do to be treated like this?”
Though prosecutors dropped the murder charge against Shareef, he remains incarcerated. Shortly before his sentencing in the murder case, Shareef – fearing the worse – agreed to plead guilty to four counts of robbery. He got a 20-year sentence for this. Shareef’s lawyers are appealing this.
But while Shareef is still not free, he has joined the other 75 people who have been found innocent since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.