May 31, 2018

Louisiana District Attorney and Detective Accused of Fabricating Evidence and Coercing Adolescent Witness To Send Innocent Man to Death Row

A federal civil rights suit filed late yesterday by the MacArthur Justice Center alleges that Louisiana law enforcement officials fabricated an eyewitness account that sent an innocent man to prison for nearly two decades.

The suit further alleges that the two officials – Scott Perrilloux, District Attorney for Louisiana’s 21st Judicial District, and Marlon Kearney Foster, the former Chief of Detectives of the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office – coerced an adolescent witness into adopting the false story. The coerced witness’ testimony led to Michael Wearry’s conviction for the April 1998 murder of Eric Walber.

“The abuse of power by District Attorney Perrilloux and Mr. Foster is an outrage that should disturb anyone who believes in justice,” said Jim Craig, Director of the MacArthur Justice Center’s Louisiana office. “Michael Wearry sat on death row at Angola for fifteen years for a crime he did not commit. Now he awaits retrial in jail on this bogus charge. These law enforcement officials must and will be held accountable.”

According to the lawsuit, Walber’s murder had remained unsolved for two years when a prisoner gave a statement that implicated Wearry and others in the killing. Wearry had already been cleared of suspicion because he was at a wedding reception in Baton Rouge at the time Eric Walber was killed at least 40 miles away.

Although the prisoner’s statement containing multiple errors and modifications, Perrilloux and Foster continued to target Wearry.

According to the complaint, Foster picked adolescent Jeffery Ashton up from school without parental permission and took him to Perrilloux’s office. Ashton had been interviewed in 1998 but had not given helpful information. The Complaint states that “Perrilloux and Foster met with Ashton and provided the adolescent with a completely fabricated story to adopt and repeat, implicating Wearry in Walber’s murder.” Ashton’s testimony at Wearry’s 2002 trial was relied on in the State’s closing argument as a reason to convict of first degree murder and sentence him to death.

The fabrication was discovered after the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Wearry’s conviction and death sentence in 2016. According to the complaint, in preparing for retrial, Wearry’s criminal defense team interviewed Ashton, who admitted to being coerced and subsequently testified about it in a November 2017 hearing in Livingston Parish District Court.

The lawsuit seeks damages from Perrilloux individually, the District Attorney’s Office, and Foster. Punitive damages are also sought against the two individual Defendants.