NEW ORLEANS — A decades-long legal ordeal that included 36 years behind bars officially ended Tuesday for a 69-year-old man when a New Orleans prosecutor announced he was officially ending efforts to prosecute him for a 1980 murder.
John Floyd had long insisted he was plied with drinks, beaten and coerced into confessing to the similar murders of two men — one in a French Quarter apartment and another in a downtown hotel — days apart. He was acquitted in the downtown murder but a judge found him guilty in the French Quarter stabbing death of William Hines.
Floyd eventually got help from the Innocence Project New Orleans and, in 2016, U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance ruled that his claims were credible. Floyd was freed in 2017 and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld her decision in June.
Prosecutors never objected to Floyd's release during appeals and it's not clear that they would seek to imprison him again — the court record includes notes that he had been offered plea deals.
But prosecutors have said Vance's ruling was erroneous and would set bad legal precedents regarding the strength of evidence needed to overcome time limits on appeals. District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro was faced with pressing on in federal court with efforts to reinstitute the conviction or re-trying a nearly 40-year-old case in state court. On Tuesday, he filed motions to officially vacate the conviction and dismiss the case.
In a news release, Cannizzaro said he remains convinced of Floyd's guilt.
"Our hope is that Mr. Floyd takes stock of his criminal past, appreciates his freedom in this season of Thanksgiving, and conducts himself in the years ahead as a law-abiding and productive member of society."
IPNO attorneys had been calling on Cannizzaro to end the prosecution for months. The organization hailed the ruling on its Facebook page, saying there would be a celebration with Floyd once he returns from spending the holidays in Mississippi with family.
Floyd had confessed to murdering Hines at the victim's French Quarter apartment and businessman Rodney Robinson three days later at a downtown hotel. Both were killed after apparently sharing a drink and having consensual sex with their attacker, according to the court record.
Vance's ruling noted evidence that Robinson was killed by a black man with type A blood. Floyd is white with type B blood.
Evidence in the Hines case has been lost over the years, but Vance said there were strong indications of Floyd's innocence in that case as well, including "the striking similarity" between the Robinson and Hines slayings and the finding of African-American hair in the bed of Hines, who was white.
She also noted the presence of fingerprints at the Hines murder scene that matched neither Hines nor Floyd.