Reginald Adams will receive state compensation for the 34 years he spent behind bars before Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office suddenly agreed last year to vacate his murder conviction, proclaiming that police and prosecutors had railroaded him.
Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office said it found in its own investigation that Adams was “factually innocent” in the killing of Cathy Ulfers during an apparent robbery attempt in 1979 at her home off Downman Road in New Orleans East.
Under a one-page consent judgment submitted in court on Monday, Caldwell’s office agreed that Adams will receive $250,000 over 10 years — the maximum allowed under the law governing the state’s Innocence Compensation Fund. Adams, 62, also will be eligible for another $80,000 to compensate him for “lost life opportunities.”
Caldwell’s office agreed that Adams “did not commit any crime based upon the same set of facts used in his original conviction,” the judgment says.
Ulfers, 24, was a young mother and the wife of New Orleans police Officer Ronald Ulfers, who is now serving a life prison term for killing his second wife, Debra, who was found dead in a canal behind the couple’s Covington home in 1996.
But while he initially was suspected in Cathy Ulfers’ killing, Ronald Ulfers was dismissed early on by then-NOPD detectives Martin Venezia and Sam Gebbia, who led the murder investigation and later arrested another man, Roland Burns, after a gun turned up that a police ballistics expert apparently linked to the murder.
Those details were contained in a police report that juries in two murder trials for Adams never knew about. An Innocence Project New Orleans investigation turned up the report in a different file in the District Attorney’s Office, for a separate burglary of which Adams was later acquitted.
Adams was convicted both times based on a purported confession he gave while jailed on the robbery. Adams has maintained that he was given pills and beer on a trip from jail to the murder scene, where police said he pointed out the Ulfers house and details of the killing.
His confession contained myriad errors, however: He identified the wrong type of gun, the wrong number of shots fired, the wrong time for the shooting, the wrong stolen items. He got confused about the gender of his alleged target, then identified her as a woman with dark hair. Ulfers was a blonde.
“I wasn’t trying to confess to no murder. ... I was high. I didn’t know what I was doing anyway,” he said in an interview last year with The New Orleans Advocate.
Adams walked free in May, just 10 days after his lawyers presented evidence of misconduct to Cannizzaro’s office.
Cannizzaro suggested there was a scheme between detectives and the prosecutors at Adams’ first trial in 1983 to hide evidence in the case. He said Gebbia and Venezia both lied on the stand when they testified that no murder weapon had turned up and no other suspects were identified in the murder.
The prosecutors at Adams’ first trial were Harold “Tookie” Gilbert, who is dead, and Ronald Bodenheimer, who later became a Jefferson Parish judge and would serve more than three years in prison after his conviction in the FBI’s “Wrinkled Robe” probe of corruption in the Gretna courthouse.
In a full-throated apology last year, Cannizzaro said Adams was the victim of “manifest intentional prosecutorial misconduct” by Gilbert and Bodenheimer. Adams walked down the courthouse steps to freedom the same day.
Since then, Venezia and Bodenheimer have vehemently disputed the DA’s claim and continued to proclaim Adams’ guilt in the murder.
Venezia said the missing report, on which his name and Gebbia’s appear, was a fabrication. He points to numerous discrepancies in the report, including a narrative that had him investigating the crime scene within minutes of the murder. Venezia said he wasn’t assigned to the case until days later.
“Someone concocted that thing,” Venezia said of the report last year. “I did my job by the book. I believed in that.”
Bodenheimer dismisses the notion that he hid the report in another file and questions why Cannizzaro’s office didn’t call him before setting Adams loose.
“It’s hard to hide something you’ve never seen,” he said.
Caldwell’s office apparently dismissed those claims after conducting an investigation that began in January, when Adams filed a petition for state compensation.
Adams did not appear in court on Monday with his attorneys, Caroline Milne, of the Innocence Project, and former federal prosecutor Michael Magner, who earlier had persuaded Cannizzaro’s office to vacate Adams’ conviction.
“He likes to avoid Tulane and Broad,” Milne said of Adams’ aversion to the Criminal District Courthouse.
“He’s excited. It was the right thing to do. The Attorney General’s Office took some time on it and they came to the same conclusion.”
Magner called the agreement to grant Adams compensation “the least the state can do under the circumstances after 34 years.”
State law allows innocent convicts to receive $25,000 per year for their time behind bars, but it caps the total at $250,000.
Advocates have pushed to lift that cap. Milne called the maximum “inadequate for someone like Reginald Adams.”
Assistant Attorney General Colin Clark declined comment outside the courtroom Monday.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.