Advocates: Conviction in 1997 death vacated; prisoner freed

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A man convicted and imprisoned for more than 20 years for the 1997 shooting death of another man in New Orleans was freed Monday after prosecutors agreed that his conviction should be vacated.

Court records show a motion to vacate the conviction of Cedric L. Dent, 47, in the shooting death of Anthony Milton was granted by a judge Monday and the district attorney's office agreed not to continue prosecuting the case.

The shooting happened outside a New Orleans supermarket, court records show.

The Innocence Project New Orleans organization said its investigation determined that prosecutors in the 1990s withheld documents that showed a witness to the shooting gave a description that didn’t match Dent, and that a key witness’s story changed multiple times before he testified at the trial.

“Cedric Dent is a victim of the failures of every system that was put in place to protect his rights as a person accused of a crime — a police department that did the bare minimum to investigate a serious crime; lawyers that didn’t have the resources or the wherewithal to investigate his case; and a district attorney’s office that concealed evidence that should have been turned over and would have helped Mr. Dent get the not guilty verdict he deserved at trial," Meredith Angelson, one of Mr. Dent’s lawyers, said in a statement released by the organization.

A statement from District Attorney Jason Williams' office noted that Dent had been convicted by a non-unanimous jury — a verdict that would not now be accepted under Louisiana law or U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

“After a thorough review of Mr. Dent’s case, our office concluded that -- like many convictions decided by non-unanimous jury — his guilty verdict stemmed from a trial that was unfair precisely because one of the twelve jurors had voted to acquit and because of constitutionally ineffective assistance from his defense attorney,” the statement said. “The legal system failed Mr. Dent, and just as significantly, failed the victim of this crime and his family.”

Innocence Project New Orleans said Dent was released Monday from the state penitentiary.

The organization said Dent is a nephew of another of its clients, Elvis Brooks. Brooks was freed in 2019 after serving 42 years for a killing connected to an armed robbery. Brooks was 62 at the time of his release. He always said he was not involved in the robbery. After IPNO found evidence that was withheld during his trial, prosecutors agreed to a deal that would free him if he pleaded guilty to the lesser crime of manslaughter. When he was released, Brooks said he pleaded to the charge to earn his freedom.