The Innocence Project New Orleans has asked a Jefferson Parish judge to throw out the conviction of a Marrero woman who went to prison for life a decade ago, saying it has credible evidence that identifies another woman as the perpetrator.
The group filed an application in 24th Judicial District Court on Tuesday for post-conviction relief in the case of Cheri Hayden, 56, who was convicted of second-degree murder after a jury decided she was driving the truck that ran over a woman during an attempted purse snatching in the parking lot of a Marrero supermarket in 2008.
IPNO said it has obtained affidavits from two people who say they heard the girlfriend of Matt Vinet, the man who owned the truck, confess to being the driver. The Advocate is not releasing the name of the woman because she has not been accused of a crime by law enforcement.
That woman's cousin recalls seeing her frantically packing to leave town in the hours after the victim, Patricia Landry, was run over at Laborie’s Supermarket on Feb. 23, 2008, IPNO said in its filing.
The group said other witnesses corroborate the girlfriend's post-crime confessions. It said she lied repeatedly about her alibi for the crime and that her DNA was found in the truck.
IPNO said that although Hayden was convicted based on the testimony of eyewitnesses, two of them said the driver was a young woman, a description that better suited Vinet's girlfriend, who was in her early 20s at the time, than Hayden, who was in her mid-40s.
IPNO said one of the eyewitnesses spoke to police and prosecutors but was not called to testify at the trial. It said the other witness identified Hayden only after concluding the driver must actually have been an older woman because detectives only showed her photos of older women.
The group said the remaining witnesses were Vinet, who would have wanted to protect his girlfriend from prosecution, and a woman who, according to people who knew her and another witness at the scene, lied repeatedly in court about her opportunity to view the crime.
IPNO took a statement from the foreman of the jury that convicted Hayden, who said the evidence against the girlfriend that he is now aware of "makes me believe she is probably guilty."
“If the jury had gotten to hear this," said the foreman, Brandon Pons, "I think it would have been a totally different trial.”
IPNO said Hayden has cancer and inoperable brain tumors and is in very poor health.
"IPNO hopes this application means that justice can be done in this case while she and her aging father are still alive to see it," the group said in a news release.
“Ms. Hayden is innocent and was convicted because she did not get a fair trial," Hayden's attorney, Charell Arnold, said. "At her trial, justice was not done for her or for Patricia Landry and her family. Ms. Hayden is very sick, but there is still a chance to do the right thing in this case.”
Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick's office would not comment, citing its policy of not discussing open or ongoing cases.
Jee Park, IPNO's executive director and an attorney for Hayden, said Connick's office has "an impressive record in recognizing and rectifying miscarriages of justice like this one."
"This is not a conviction that should be defended," she said. "For Ms. Hayden’s sake, we hope that the district attorney will move quickly to review this case and agree that the wrong person is in prison for this crime.”