Across the narrow road from where Reginald Adams sat Saturday, train tracks run east and west atop a berm, moving humans and freight down the line.
In the pale sky above Kenner, outbound planes swept up and away from nearby Louis Armstrong International Airport, angling for cruising altitude.
People were going places. Adams wanted nothing to do with them.
Free for just five days after spending more than 12,000 of them behind bars on a murder conviction that vanished Monday, he just wanted to stick near his mother’s porch, with the black metal enclosure that he could exit as he pleased.
He plans to ride around on the teal bicycle parked outside, he said, once he gets it cleaned up a little.
No need to look up old friends or dwell in the past, Adams said as he sat with his mother, Antoinette Scott. Not after 34 years, most of it spent living in a dormitory at the state penitentiary in Angola and stamping license plates for $8 a week.
“Far as I’m concerned, the whole world got a head start on me,” said Adams, 61. “This porch has become my best friend. I don’t go past it. As far as being free, I don’t think there’s nothing out here get on my nerves.”
Sporting a new blue polo shirt, jeans and tennis shoes, Adams is adjusting to life on the outside. The crowds at clothing stores. The TV remote control. Trading his Louisiana State Penitentiary identification card — #103190 — for a different one.
On Monday, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro conceded that prosecutors in former DA Harry Connick’s office intentionally hid a key investigative report during Adams’ 1983 capital murder trial, and again at his 1990 retrial, for the killing of Cathy Ulfers, the wife of a New Orleans police officer who himself is now serving a life prison sentence for killing his second wife.
Cannizzaro said the record also shows police detectives lied on the witness stand at both trials, claiming that no evidence or other suspects had been found before Adams gave them a lengthy confession while locked up in the Orleans Parish jail on a separate burglary count.
One of the prosecutors at the first trial, Ronald Bodenheimer, later became a judge who would serve nearly four years in federal prison for his role in a judicial corruption scandal that turned the Jefferson Parish courthouse on its ear. Last week, Bodenheimer denied hiding anything at Adams’ trial.
One of the lead detectives, Martin Venezia, has since served a five-year prison sentence in Florida for negligent homicide. Venezia was fired from the NOPD in 1993 for pistol-whipping and getting into a gunfight with his son and then trying to quickly repair bullet holes in his police cruiser to cover it up, records show.
As he did on the courthouse steps Monday, when he refused to reveal any bitterness, Adams declined Saturday to take aim at the prosecutors and cops who helped put him away.
“What’s going to change? The damage has been done,” he said. “I don’t really care where those people are. Look, I’m sitting on this porch. Far as I’m concerned, it’s over.”
After ambling his lanky frame down the courthouse steps Monday, Adams grabbed an oyster loaf and headed to his mother’s home, where he now lives.
He attended a fundraising gala for Innocence Project New Orleans on Thursday night, when he was feted along with other former inmates who have been set free after their convictions were overturned.
“That was a feeling I needed,” he said. “Being my first time among decent people, and being it was all about me? How can I not like it?”
Jurors in Adams’ two trials relied on his confession. His first conviction was overturned after a higher court ruled that the jury was improperly allowed to read a transcript of his confession while deliberating.
Adams told detectives he had killed Cathy Ulfers in a $10,000 hit job. But he got many of the basic facts of the murder wrong, including the caliber of the weapon, the victim’s hair color, which door he told police he entered and how many shots were fired. Adams said four. Ulfers was shot seven times.
Adams later claimed that he was coached before confessing and plied with Valium and Miller beer and that the investigators threatened to name his wife as an accomplice in the burglary, for which he was later acquitted.
Police had found the gun used in the murder and linked it to Roland Burns and his sister, Alece, both of whom are now dead. The evidence never made it into either of Adams’ trials.
Adams said Saturday that he had no desire to discuss details of his confession or his own past.
“No kinda way,” he said.
He was flanked by one of his attorneys, Michael Magner, a former federal prosecutor who helped convict Bodenheimer in the Operation Wrinkled Robe judicial corruption case. Magner advised Adams against discussing the confession.
“Reginald has this great attitude, trying to look forward,” Magner said. “That seems like a great, sweet, healthy thing to do.”
Adams did proclaim his innocence in the murder. And he credited Innocence Project New Orleans with finally taking a hard look at his case and presenting it to Cannizzaro, who within 10 days agreed that the record showed “manifest intentional prosecutorial misconduct.”
Adams first wrote to the organization more than a decade ago, but his case didn’t make it past an initial screening.
“They never wrote back, but when they did decide to correspond, here they are, and here I go,” he said. “You got people who are willing to go the extra mile. I guess you could say I’m lucky. There’s no recipe there.”
Caroline Milne, a staff attorney at the organization who led the push to free Adams, said they took another look at the case about a year and a half ago, after prodding from an anonymous person. The involvement of Bodenheimer and others in the case, along with NOPD Officer Ronald Ulfers’ conviction in the murder of his second wife, raised red flags, she said.
Adams said he didn’t while away his time behind bars hoping — “No dreams. Reality,” he said — but he figured eventually someone would notice.
“Just a feeling sooner or later it had to come. I’m innocent,” he said. “All I remember is one day being set up, and I can’t figure it out. When you’re innocent, it’s always hard doing time.”
In the past few days, Adams has let himself fantasize just a little, picturing a motorcycle parked by the front lawn. He said he rode a Harley-Davidson just before his arrest, but he added, “I never had a chance to get to know the bike. I don’t think I had the bike 30 days.”
He stood up from his seat on the porch. He eyed the metal bars of the gate that surrounds it.
“Last time I was behind a cage,” he said quietly, “I didn’t have a key.”
He walked down the steps into the afternoon sun, with nowhere to go, and nothing keeping him.