Shareef Cousin: The Story of a Free Man

Shareef Cousin was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Here his story of injustice and how he got his freedom back. Shareef Cousin is an African American who was born in 1979. Shareef Cousin was from New Orleans. Cousin was unfairly convicted of a 1996 first-degree murder of Michael Gerardi. In result to Cousin’s conviction, he was sentenced to death as a minor in the state of Louisiana. With Cousin being 17 at the time, he became the youngest person to receive the death penalty in the state of Louisiana and in the entire United States.

The Crime

The crime in question happened on March 2, 1995. Michael Gerardi and Connie Babin went on their first date to the Port of Call dining establishment situated in the French Quarter of New Orleans. After the pair finished dinner, they left the restaurant and made their way to Gerardi’s car that was parked right around the corner. This is when three black teenagers approached Gerardi’s vehicle. Gerardi yelled to Babin to run away, which she obliged. When running, Babin turned around real fast, and this is when she saw one of the people shoot Gerardi point-blank in the face.

Shareef Cousin Case

Officially on March 28, 1995, the New Orleans police arrested Shareef Cousin, 16 for the murder of Michael Gerardi. James Rowell, a former friend of Cousin, stated that Cousin was the one who committed this crime. Rowell was seeking lesser charges for several robberies he committed previously. The New Orleans police put Cousin in a police line-up for Babin to pick him out from.

When the trial was happening, Babin testified in front of the courtroom, that she was “absolutely positive” that it was Cousin that committed the murder. James Rowell was also called to the witness stand by the prosecutors. Rowell testified prior to being put on the stand that Cousin was bragging to him about the crime. But when it came down to it, Rowell took the stand and denied he even had that sort of conversation with Cousin. However, Rowell did state while he was on the witness stand that his attorney, along with the district attorney, was threatening him with a long jail sentence if he didn’t testify against Cousin. Rowell then went on to explain that if he didn’t lie, he was not going to have a deal. He also noted that his hearing was scheduled after he would testify here in Cousin’s trial.

After Rowell got off the witness stand, the prosecution called the police and the lawyer who was in attendance for Rowell’s deposition. These witnesses testified to what Rowell previously stated.

When it was the defense team time to present their witnesses, they brought two Parks and Recreation supervisors to the stand. These witnesses testified that Cousin was playing a basketball game in another part of New Orleans and after he was driven home by the coach when the crime would have been committed. They even had video footage of Cousin playing basketball during when the murder took place. However, the prosecutors argued that the timestamp and date could very well be inaccurate.

Detective Anthony Small presented two more witnesses who could positively identify Cousin was the murderer in the crime, but unfortunately, they were ultimately never called to the witness stand during the trial. However, it came to light later that these additional witnesses were not real; they were just used to get a warrant.

Ultimately, Shareef Cousin was convicted of the first-degree murder of Gerardi and was given the death penalty.

Shareef Cousin was entirely convicted on one eyewitness identification that was provided by Babin. She was the one who stated there were four black teenagers and the one-shot him. However, there was never any physical evidence that linked Shareef Cousin to the crime, while there were many witnesses that stated they saw Shareef Cousin playing a basketball game at a park while the murder took place. Even the video footage of the game was shown in the courtroom.

Misconduct Allegations and Appeals

After the trial ended, the defense team discovered there was many situations of misconduct by the prosecution team. Among these situations was a statement that was provided by Connie Babin from the night of the murder. This is where Babin explained that she did not really get a good look at the shooter or even his accomplices for that matter because of the distance between them and her. Babin also stated that she was, in fact, not even wearing her glasses on the night of the crime, so she could only see shapes and patterns, let alone someone’s facial features.

But that was not it. There were many more discrepancies, as well. Babin even stated that the shooter was a little bit shorter than Gerardi. Well, Shareef Cousin is a few inches taller than Gerardi.

The prosecution team did not disclose these above statements to Shareef’s defense team. This information was vital to the defense team as Babin’s identification of Shareef was the only evidence they had that linked Shareef to the murder. The defense team received this information through an anonymous source.

The prosecution team also withheld many of the other witness statements. There was a local bird watcher that witnessed the crime was able to take down the license plate number. He even reported the license plate number through the Crime Stoppers tip hotline.

There was also evidence discovered that the prosecution was trying to cover from the defense team. The defense team was not able to locate many of the evidence during the trial. It was later unearthed that the prosecution even instructed many witnesses to head down to the district attorney’s office and stay there for the remainder of the trial against Shareef. The defense team did not know this whatsoever.

When the prosecution team was questioned about this, the prosecutor stated that he put them there for their own comfort because of the heat outside. Yet, the Time magazine was reporting that the Shareef trial was during one of the coldest Januarys that the city has ever seen.

This led Shareef to file an appeal. This appeal reached the Louisiana Supreme Court because of the Brady violations, which is a major failure on the prosecution part. The appeal identified numerous improper uses of the testimony from Rowell along with much other misconduct.

The entire fact that the testimony from Babin and Rowell were highly proven to be unreliable were the main evidence against Cousin, which ultimately led the Louisiana Supreme Court to reverse Shareef conviction back in 1998.

It was officially ordered that there needs to be a new trial based on the grounds that the evidence in Shareef’s first trial was mishandled and not fairly used correctly by the prosecution team. However, just a short few months later, the district attorney, Harry Connick Sr., decided to drop the case against Shareef due to the lack of evidence.

Disciplinary Board & New Orleans Death Row

Roger Jordan, a prosecutor in June of 2005, was disciplined because of the misconduct in Shareef’s case by the Louisiana Supreme Court. Jordan was on a three-month suspension.

According to Clive Stafford Smith, defense attorney stated that Regina Small told him that Anthony Small, the detective on the case was also involved in Shareef’s case. She further stated that her husband called the Crime Stoppers tip hotline to report Shareef even after the New Orleans police had him as a suspect. This ultimately led to the arrest of Shareef. Detective Small even received a $10,500 reward.

Civil Suit

Shareef filed a civil suit against the New Orleans police department along with the district attorney’s office. Shareef stated that all the violations that happened against his civil rights. Shareef even stated that with the prosecution withholding many witness statements, how they intimidated and coerced Rowell, and took many precautions to scare the defense witnesses from testifying. Unfortunately, his civil suit was denied as the prosecutors have full immunity.

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