Leon A. Waters
Chair of Louisiana Museum of African-American History and Manager of Hidden History Tours@ www.HiddenHistory.us
On Wednesday, August 20, 2003, Ahmad Nelson, a young twenty-two-year-old African-American worker and father was found not guilty of second-degree murder in the April 2002 shooting death of New Orleans Policeman Wes Williams. Williams was killed on April 12, 2002 in the 1600 block of Governor Nicholls Street.
On the early morning of April 12, 2002, Nelson was released from Central Lockup. He walked home to the 1500 block of Governor Nicholls arriving about 3:00 a.m. The police officer was fatally shot several minutes before Nelson arrived home. Nelson’s home was across the street from the shooting.
The Committee to Free Ahmad Nelson had maintained that this case was a classic frame-up. The police and District Attorney Harry Connick had no evidence except the lying testimony of police witnesses who claimed they witnessed Nelson shoot Officer Williams in the dark of the night. Nelson had just been released from Central Lockup. He walked from Central Lockup to Popeye’s at the corner of Canal and N. Rampart St. He was to meet his girlfriend there. By the time he reached Popeye’s, it had started to rain. His girlfriend had returned home. So, he walked over to his mother’s home in the Iberville Housing Projects. There he telephoned his girlfriend to advise her that he was on his way home. As he hung the phone up, his girlfriend heard shots rang out from outside their home. About 15 minutes later, Nelson arrived home. His girlfriend tells him that someone may have been shot. They go to sleep and learn the next morning that a police officer was killed. Two weeks later police arrive at Nelson’s home where he is standing outside. Police attack him, whip him up in his yard and then arrest him for murder. Police claim that the suspect they were looking for had the same style of dread locks that Nelson had. DA Connick charged Nelson with second-degree murder.
After a 16-month campaign for justice, Criminal Court Judge Arthur Hunter would rule that the state had no evidence against Ahmad Nelson and set him free. The only so-called evidence the state presented was the lying testimony of two police stool pigeons, Eugene Fisher and Brandon Henry. The two shameful ‘witnesses’ contradicted each other and made outrageous claims in their first statements on the morning of the murder. The lead detective, Joseph Catalenatto, testified that the star witness, Eugene Fisher, had lied about ‘seeing the perpetrator’s face’. The other witness against Ahmad, Cory Thomas, testified that the police beat him and made him finger Ahmad. These horrible police conduct convinced the judge that this was another attempt by the state to railroad a clearly innocent man.
The committee recognized that the masses had to be rallied to Ahmad’s defense. The committee organized public rallies, held protests, and raised funds. What was importantly learned from this campaign was that militant and radical struggles can produce victories. We need more of this kind of struggle to win more victories today!
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