On Friday August 19, Judge Jerome Winsberg tossed out Manuel’s death sentence, citing an ethical conflict by the prosecutor, Ronald Bodenheimer, as the reason for his decision. Sadly, Judge Winsberg did not overturn Manuel’s convictions for first-degree and second-degree murder. This means that although Manuel is no longer under the threat of execution (unless the State appeals), as it stands now he will spend the rest of his life in jail for crimes he did not commit.
We rejoice that Manuel is likely to be released from death row, but this is only one step towards securing what he truly deserves: freedom.
It is repugnant that a prosecutor would, in a death penalty case, urge the jury to make a particular fact-finding, and then, in a related civil case, argue for the opposite conclusion, one which may have aided the defense in the criminal case. Mr. Bodenheimer’s conduct in the related civil cases has cast a shadow on the criminal prosecution, rendering the death sentence unreliable. – Judge Jerome Winsberg
We are deeply dismayed that Judge Winsberg was “unconvinced” by the many witnesses who supported Manuel’s claim that Carlos Saavedra did the killings himself and pinned the murders on Manuel, although given the reluctance of judges to overturn jury convictions, it is perhaps not surprising.
The State has one month to appeal Judge Winsberg’s ruling. If they don’t appeal, Manuel’s attorneys may then file an appeal on his behalf.
You can read the Times Picayune article about the decision. As soon as it is available, we’ll publish Judge Winsberg’s 13-page ruling.
What you can do
At this time, Manuel needs your support more than ever. We know he will be deeply disappointed in this decision, which leaves him imprisoned for crimes he did not commit. We know, too, that it is important to celebrate the relief of no longer having a sentence of death hanging over him. (Keep in mind the prosecution has one month in which to appeal this decision; if they don’t appeal, Manuel will then get off death row.)
If you’d like to show your support, please write a letter to Manuel celebrating his impending release from death row and letting him know you are behind him as he and his legal team take the next steps to overturn his convictions entirely and see him a free man.