Sam Gebbia, whose testimony as a New Orleans police officer helped to wrongfully convict Reginald Adams of the 1979 murder of another officer’s wife, can’t be prosecuted for perjury in the case, even though Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro says that he lied under oath. The statute of limitations on perjury has long ago run out.
But Gebbia may face consequences from another DA — his boss, St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed. Gebbia is listed in payroll records as a division director and investigator in Reed’s office, earning a salary of $63,144.
“We have learned of the allegations from media reports, and we have already contacted the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office for information,” Reed said in a statement faxed to The New Orleans Advocate on Tuesday afternoon. “It is troubling to learn of any wrongful conviction and we are reviewing the matter.”
Reed’s office did not answer a question about how long Gebbia has worked for him. According to a 2006 story in The Times-Picayune, he began working in Reed’s office around 2000.
Gebbia did not return a call for comment.
Cannizzaro, who signed off on Adams’ release Monday after Adams spent 34 years in prison, called the case the most egregious example of alleged misconduct he had seen from former District Attorney Harry Connick’s 30 years in office.
Gebbia and Martin Venezia, both NOPD officers at the time, testified that no evidence or other suspects were found before Adams made a jailhouse statement confessing that he killed Cathy Ulfers, the wife of another NOPD officer, in a $10,000 murder-for-hire. A police report that went missing indicates otherwise. The report, written by Gebbia and Venezia, shows that police found the gun used to shoot Ulfers and linked it to two other people. That report is dated 10 months before Adams made his error-riddled confession.
Gebbia testified in the 1983 trial but did not testify in a 1990 retrial. Adams was convicted both times.
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said the Adams case should raise concerns on the part of Gebbia’s current employer.
Another district attorney is flatly accusing Gebbia of perjury, Goyeneche pointed out, and a man spent 34 years in prison for a crime that Cannizzaro doesn’t believe he committed.
Even though it’s too late to try Gebbia for perjury, it’s not too late to consider the facts of the case and mete out discipline, Goyeneche said. He said Reed should give some consideration to Cannizzaro’s accusation and do what is in the best interest of his office.
“An investigator’s credibility and integrity is crucial,” he said. “Anything and everything that he touches in any investigation runs the potential of being tainted by his questionable conduct.”
Investigators play an important role in prosecutors’ offices, Goyeneche said. They do original investigative work, frequently in white-collar crime cases, and supplement the work done by other agencies’ investigators in other cases.
“There’s a need for them, a value and benefit in having them,” he said. “A good investigator can turn an arrest into a conviction.”
Adams, who gave his confession almost a year after Ulfers was shot to death, says the detectives who took the statement plied him with beer and narcotics for hours before turning on the tape recorder.
The police report that traced the gun used in the killing was missing in both trials, and Cannizzaro said two prosecutors hid it in another file.
According to Cannizzaro, the two were Harold “Tookie” Gilbert Jr. and Ronald Bodenheimer, who later became a judge and then went to federal prison in the judicial-corruption scandal in Jefferson Parish known as Operation Wrinkled Robe.
Venezia also served time in Florida after pleading no contest to negligent homicide. Gilbert is dead.
Gebbia is the only one of the four still working in law enforcement.
“The goal of every prosecution is justice and not winning,” Goyeneche said. “When it becomes winning at the expense of justice is when you have a problem.’’
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter at @spagonesadvocat.