Meet the Exonerees

Shareef Cousin

State: Louisiana
Date of Birth: 1979
Incident Date: 05/02/1995
Age at Arrest: 16
Conviction Date: 01/25/1996
Age When Exonerated: 20
Exonerated Date: 1999
Time Served: 0
Conviction: Murder
False Confession: No
Implicated by Another Youth: Yes

Case Details

On May 2, 1995, Shareef Cousin, a sixteen year-old African-American living in New Orleans, Louisiana, was playing a basketball game at a local recreation center. The game was supposed to end at 9:30 P.M., but the game was delayed and did not end until after 10:00 P.M. One of the coaches, Eric White, drove Cousin and three other players home between 10:20 and 10:30 P.M. That night, Michael Gerardi and Connie Babin were on a date. While walking back to Gerardi’s pick-up truck around 10:20 P.M., three young men began to follow the couple. One of the young men fatally shot and killed Gerardi. Babin initially told police that things were so confusing she doubted she could identify the killer. James Rowell, a troubled teen whom Cousin had befriended in a substance-abuse help center, was arrested and charged with nine counts of armed robbery shortly after the Gerardi murder. In exchange for lessened charges, Rowell offered up information. He made a statement claiming Cousin had bragged to him about killing Gerardi. Later, Babin identified Cousin as Gerardi’s killer in a photo line-up, and said she was “absolutely positive” that Cousin was the culprit, despite her earlier confusion. Cousin’s case went to trial in late 1995. At the trial, Babin once more positively identified Cousin as Gerardi’s killer. Prosecution withheld from the jury her previous, uncertain statements. Prosecution also altered recorded statements made by Coach White to make it seem like the basketball game ended before 10:00 P.M., invalidating video footage proving Cousin was at the game. When White objected to the tape, he was not allowed to elaborate on his objection. The three boys who had been driven home with Cousin by Coach White were subpoenaed to testify, and were waiting in the hall outside the courtroom during the last days of the trial. When the defense lawyers were ready to call the boys, they had vanished. Defense lawyers later discovered that the boys had been taken by prosecutors to the D.A.’s office across the street. Despite the fact that James Rowell recanted his statement implicating Cousin, and despite the fact that there was no physical evidence linking Cousin to the crime, Shareef Cousin was convicted of the murder of Michael Gerardi, and sentenced to death on January 25, 1996. He was the youngest person in the world on Death Row. On April 14, 1998, Cousin’s conviction was overturned by the Louisiana Supreme Court, citing prosecutorial/police misconduct and underhanded police work. In 1999, Cousin was exonerated of all charges related to the murder of Michael Gerardi, and released from Death Row.