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Louisiana Supreme Court Springs Prisoner From Death Row

Condemned Louisiana prisoner Darrell Robinson got off death row on January 26, 2024, when the state supreme court found his 2001 trial was tainted and granted a new one. Robinson, 55, was the only one of 57 state prisoners awaiting execution who didn’t file a clemency request in 2023, when former Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) announced his opposition to the death penalty—a mass effort that ultimately failed, as PLN reported. [See: PLN, Dec. 2023, p.48.]

A unanimous jury convicted Robinson of quadruple murder in the 1996 execution-­like killings of Billy Lambert, 50, his sister, Carol Hooper, 54, her daughter, Maureen Kelley, 37, and Kelley’s infant son, Nicholas. At the time, Robinson was a tenant on the farm owned by Lambert, an acquaintance made while getting VA treatment for alcoholism. When Robinson arrived home and found the bodies, he fled in fear, he claimed.

But prosecutors presented a second-­hand confession from jailhouse snitch Leroy Goodspeed, who told the jury nothing was promised him in return. That was a blatant lie. In fact Goodspeed’s robbery charges were dismissed with a note that he “was an essential witness in a murder trial.” Ninth Judicial District Judge Patricia Koch also allowed the state to suppress DNA analysis of blood found on a jacket Lambert was wearing, which didn’t match Robinson’s blood.

After 23 years in prison, Robinson’s appeal finally reached the state’s high court, where a majority of justices agreed that “the defendant did not receive a fair trial, or a verdict worthy of confidence.” His sentence was vacated, over the dissent of two justices. One, Will Crain, argued that the trial court had not made a finding that perjury was committed by those testifying that Goodspeed received no quid pro quo—so that element of Robinson’s conviction should not be reviewable. See: State ex rel. Robinson v. Vannoy, 378 So. 3d 11 (La. 2024).

Robinson’s attorney with the Mwalimu Center for Justice, Matilda Caria, marveled at “the breadth of the Brady violations” in the case, referring to the state’s duty to share all evidence against a defendant laid out in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). Freelance prosecutor Hugo Holland—who once kept a portrait of Confederate KKK leader Nathan Bedford Forrest in his office—vowed to retry Robinson, calling the appeal “quite a useless exercise when this guy should have been executed years ago.”  


Additional sources: Fortune, New Orleans Times-­Picayune


Online Only Update: The State’s petition for rehearing was granted by the Louisiana Supreme Court on March 21, 2024. Briefing is due by no later than April 26, 2024, and then the case will be docketed for oral argument and decision. See: State ex rel. Robinson v. Vannoy, 2024 La. LEXIS 568 (La.).

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Related legal cases

State ex rel. Robinson v. Vannoy

State ex rel. Robinson v. Vannoy