LIVINGSTON — Attorneys for a man convicted of murder 20 years ago told a state judge Friday that a flake of skin extracted from the victim's car could bolster his claim he had nothing to do with the Albany teenager's death. The judge OK'd genetic testing that could change the course of a retrial now set for January.
Rachel Conner, a lawyer for Michael Wearry,, said skin extracted from dried blood scraped off the passenger side of Eric Walber's car and long stashed in a Jefferson Parish evidence room contains the DNA of an unknown person who is neither the victim, Wearry, nor four co-defendants. DNA from a fifth co-defendant has not been obtained for a comparison.
"In this case, where there were numerous other suspects questioned in the investigation, numerous other people who confessed to having killed Eric Walber," Conner told 21st Judicial District Judge Robert Morrison III. "If that were to match one of the other suspects, that would obviously be vital to his defense," she said.
Every evening for months after her son was murdered, Cherie Walber walked along road ditches in her area, looking for some kind of clue.
Wearry was one of six people convicted of murdering Walber, a 16-year-old Albany High School student finishing a pizza delivery shift in April 1998 and preparing to leave on a ski trip the next day. Prosecutors said the group robbed Walber and beat him, then ran the youngster over with his own car and left him along a road in Tangipahoa Parish.
The case shook a rural community and went unsolved for two years before a man in prison came forward to police, claiming he had information about the crime.
Wearry was sentenced to death, but the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 2016. Justices said prosecutors withheld critical, exculpatory evidence about the motives of two key witnesses and the physical condition of a suspect.
Two decades ago, 16-year-old Eric Walber — an Albany High School student and football player — was found slain off the side of a road in Tangi…
Wearry remains jailed pending a retrial set for Jan. 22. The judge denied a request to lower his bond Friday.
Livingston Parish Assistant District Attorney Kurt Wall said he had no problem with the skin being tested for the alternative suspects but raised concerns it might not provide clear-and-convincing evidence. Court documents describe the sample as "partial and incomplete."
"I don't have any objection to a legitimate profile that meets all the standards of the crime lab and the FBI, then I'm all for it," Wall told the judge. "If something falls short of what is scientifically recognized, I do have an objection to it."
Morrison said the results could provide valuable, exculpatory information.
"My only concern is that if there becomes some kind of other issue as far as positive identification of someone who is not charged with this offense, where that leads us," Morrison said.
Results will be discussed at a hearing Dec. 14.
Conner said five to eight people were at some point investigated in Walber's death and she suspects their DNA is in a database of genetic profiles from people arrested for crimes. She said the Acadiana Crime Lab is working with the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab to develop a list of potential matches to the sample.
She said the DNA was found within dried blood, indicating it was deposited at the same time as the crime.
The DNA profiles of Darrell Hampton, Randy Hutchinson, Shadrick Reed, James Skinner and Wearry, all convicted in Walber's death, have been excluded as the source of this new DNA sample, attorneys for Wearry claim in court filings.
The DNA issue is the latest in a number of challenges to the credibility of the 20-year-old murder convictions since the Supreme Court's decision two years ago.
A Louisiana death-row inmate will be tried again in the brutal slaying of an Albany teenager after the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday reversed t…
In recent months, Hampton and Skinner, who also claim innocence, have asked Livingston Parish judges to reconsider their convictions, given the high court's decision and new questions about a possible alternative suspect who has implicated himself in the killing. The district attorney has opposed those requests.
A lawsuit filed in May by a nonprofit civil rights law firm accuses the district attorney and a sheriff's deputy of coercing a 10-year-old into giving false testimony in Wearry's murder trial.
Livingston Parish District Attorney Scott Perrilloux has stood by the convictions and denied any misconduct relating to the child's testimony.
A suspect in the high-profile 1998 murder of an Albany teen has filed suit in federal court accusing local law enforcement officials of coerci…