Eric Prudholm Exonerated by DNA Evidence After Serving Over 37 Years in Prison

Innocence Project of New Orleans

In January 2019, Eric Prudholm was released from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, into the arms of his daughter as a free man after a joint order to vacate his conviction and sentence was filed today. Mr. Prudholm was a 21-year-old young man visiting his girlfriend and her family in Bossier Parish, Louisiana in 1981 from Los Angeles, California, when he was wrongly arrested for crimes he did not commit. DNA evidence shows he is innocent.

In 1982, Mr. Prudholm was convicted by a non-unanimous jury and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for aggravated rape, plus 50 years for armed robbery. He was convicted with two co-defendants, James Gladney and Reggie Hicks. Mr. Gladney and Mr. Prudholm were convicted of rape and robbery and Mr. Hicks was convicted of robbery. On June 8, 1981, the victim was raped in a dimly lit motel room in Bossier City by two men with a third man who served as a lookout. The only evidence presented by the State against Mr. Prudholm was the identification testimony from the victim who admitted that she was asleep until the first rapist attacked her, the room was dimly lit, and her eyes were mostly closed during the attack. She also described the second rapist, whom she identified to be Mr. Prudholm, as a dark-skinned Black man, but Mr. Prudholm has a light brown, tan complexion. Additionally, Mr. Prudholm presented seven alibi witnesses in his motion for new trial showing that he was in California, where he lived, when the crime occurred. Despite the State’s weak, unreliable eyewitness evidence and Mr. Prudholm’s strong alibis, he was convicted.

When Mr. Prudholm was arrested 37 years ago, DNA testing was not available to confirm his innocence and identify the true perpetrators. In 2013, with the help of IPNO, Mr. Prudholm located the evidence in his case and fought for five years, going up to the Louisiana Supreme Court, for the right to clear his name by having the evidence DNA tested. The DNA results from the bed linens and the victims’ nightgown conclusively prove that Mr. Prudholm did not rape the victim. The rape was committed by his co-defendants. Mr. Prudholm was not present when Mr. Gladney and Mr. Hicks committed these horrendous acts.

Given the new DNA evidence plus the weaknesses of the evidence used to convict Mr. Prudholm, the Bossier Parish District Attorney’s office and Mr. Prudholm reached an agreement to enter into an Alford plea, allowing him to maintain his innocence in exchange for immediate release. Mr. Prudholm was resentenced to time-served for the nearly four decades he spent in prison. As a 58-year-old man, Mr. Prudholm’s urgent wish is to be reunited with his daughter and grandchild. His daughter was born months after he was wrongly arrested and detained in 1981, and he has long wished to spend time with her outside prison walls.

Jee Park, IPNO’s Executive Director, said: “Mr. Prudholm spent 37 years and three months in prison for crimes he did not commit. We are thrilled that his wrongful incarceration is finally over and that he has been reunited with his loving family. Mr. Prudholm is the 33rd innocent client IPNO has freed or exonerated. On average, our cases take 10 years of hard-fought litigation to free the innocent. We are confident that if we had litigated this case to its end, Mr. Prudholm would have been fully exonerated because he is innocent. Our legal system, however, is too slow to undo its mistakes, and as a man who has suffered greatly in prison, time with his family is more precious and urgent.”

Kia Hayes, IPNO’s Staff Attorney, said: “Seeing Mr. Prudholm reunited with his daughter, who has never doubted her father’s innocence and has supported him throughout these many decades, is heartening. His life was taken away from him by a shoddy legal process, and he deserves to be fully exonerated, but this compromise allows him to be released immediately so that he can enjoy the remainder of his life with his family in freedom, rather than lose precious years while we fight in court.”

Mr. Prudholm walked out of Angola today with nothing but the clothes on his back and the plea agreement means he cannot seek compensation from the State for his wrongful incarceration. More information below on how you can help Mr. Prudholm.

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