In 2nd murder trial, man whose Supreme Court appeal overturned split juries, found not guilty

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Evangelisto Ramos, whose successful appeal of a murder conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court made unconstitutional nonunanimous jury verdicts and paved the way for hundreds of people, including himself, to be retried, was declared not guilty Wednesday night by an Orleans Parish jury.

The verdict came less than four hours after Ramos’ second trial concluded in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, but eight years after he was accused of the stabbing death of Trenice Fedison, whose body was found in a standard-issue municipal trashcan in the Central City neighborhood — and three years after he won the right to have his fate decided by an undivided jury.

In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court banned the split verdicts that had persisted in Louisiana for more than 100 years, sowed into the state’s constitution by white supremacists. The highest court’s ruling allowed people who had not exhausted appeals of their original verdicts to be tried anew.

The decision followed a Louisiana law that two years earlier outlawed nonunanimous verdicts in the state. But the law did not reverse previous split-jury convictions, nor did it demand new trials.

This week, Ramos faced a second jury. Following a three-day trial that concluded Wednesday night, all 12 jurors decided Orleans Parish prosecutors had failed to prove that Ramos, 50, had stabbed Fedison to death in 2014. In a 10-2 vote, a jury convicted Ramos of the same crime in 2015. He spent more than eight years imprisoned before his second trial.

“This verdict cements Evangelisto Ramos’ legacy, not only for ending unconstitutional Jim Crow juries, but also as a symbol for the countless others who have been wrongfully convicted by an unjust system from a bygone era,” defense attorney Sarah Chervinsky said following the decision.

‘The trashcan that is her coffin’

On Wednesday, Assistant Orleans Parish District Attorney William Dieters wheeled to the center of Judge Robin Pittman’s courtroom the hunter-green trashcan in which 43-year-old Fedison’s body was disposed, headfirst, on Nov. 26, 2014 — and later, where Ramos’ DNA was undisputedly found.

Fedison’s killer, he argued, “is the one whose DNA appears on the trashcan that is her coffin.”

But the jury was unconvinced by a case that rested almost entirely on the presence of Ramos’ DNA on that trashcan — which he had confessed to using before his arrest — and the circumstantial evidence that Ramos was identified by a relative of Fedison as one of the last people seen with her. Four broken kitchen tiles, approximately the length of the average female body, were found in Ramos’ apartment. But no blood could be recovered from the small space.

Instead, the panel seemingly viewed more favorably the version of events presented by Ramos’ defense, which included Chervinsky and New York-based Rebecca Mernelstein: that Ramos, a Honduran immigrant and offshore worker who lived on the same stretch of Danneel Street as Fedison, had a paid for a sexual encounter with her more than 20 hours before her body was discovered a block from his apartment. Ramos’ DNA, his attorneys argued, was on the trashcan, which belonged to a church on the same street, because he threw his garbage into it.

New Orleans police rejected Ramos’ statement that he’d watched Fedison get into a black sedan with two unknown men hours before she was killed, the attorneys said, and ignored the unidentified DNA of two men collected posthumously from Fedison’s nail clippings.

The detectives “treated [Fedison] like she was not worth the quality of investigation that we know she was,” Chervinsky told the jury. “You have to look at these prosecutors and tell them this case is not closed. Tell them that we have questions and they have to answer them.”

‘We see this over and over again’

Ramos’ first trial ended on June 22, 2015, with a guilty verdict after less than two hours of deliberation. His state appeals failed. But four years after his conviction, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in Ramos’ case.

In the petition he submitted on Ramos’ behalf to the highest court, Ben Cohen, an attorney for the Promise of Justice Initiative in New Orleans, noted the state’s split-jury rule was created to limit Black “participation in the democratic process,” and perpetuate the supremacy of the white race.

Cohen also cited The Times-Picayune’s 2018 comprehensive analysis of Louisiana jury trials, which showed Black defendants were 30 percent more likely to be convicted by a split jury than white defendants.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Ramos’ favor, it later declined to make its ban of split jury verdicts retroactive. Last year, a bid by The Promise of Justice Initiative failed to convince the Louisiana Supreme Court to grant new trials for the more 1,500 imprisoned people it identified as convicted by nonunanimous juries. Four out of five of those people are Black.

On Thursday, Mercedes Montagnes, executive director of The Promise of Justice Initiative, heralded Ramos’ new verdict as proof of the weight of one or two jurors’ dissenting opinions.

 “We have to understand that there are people who are in prison right now who have nonunanimous juries, and the harm to them and their communities is massive,” Montagnes said.

The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office issued a prepared statement Thursday, saying its prosecutors “eruditely presented every piece of legal evidence possible and available after eight years. The family of the victim … has suffered immeasurable pain and loss throughout this very grueling legal journey without closure.”

The District Attorney’s Office’s civil rights division has intervened in at least 96 non-unanimous jury verdict cases. Of those, only four, including Ramos, were retried. Most — 57 — pleaded to a lesser offense. Ten were dismissed outright.

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About Mary Weyand 14613 Articles
Mary founded Scoop Tour with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research. With ample knowledge about the Automobile industry, she also contributes her knowledge for the Automobile section of the website.

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