137 x 117 cm
Oil on canvas 2008
Death Row Louisiana
Charges Dismissed: 1999
Shareef Cousin was convicted of the 1995 murder of Michael Gerardi who was killed while leaving a New Orleans restaurant with his girlfriend, Connie Babin. During police questioning, Connie twice denied being able to identify the murderer as it was dark and she did not have her glasses or contacts lenses. On the night of the murder she described the killer as shorter than Gerardi. Shareef was 4“ taller. In court, however, she was “100% certain it was Shareef”. Her previous doubts, though recorded on tape, were not shared with the jury.
On the night of the murder, Shareef had been playing in a
basketball match. A video recording of the game included a wall clock showing he was at the game at the time of the murder. Three team-mates came to court to confirm this but were sent to wait in a separate room. The were unable to find them and they missed their opportunity to testify. The video tape was never shown in court and Shareef was found guilty and sentenced to death.
In 1999, after four years on death row, the courts finally overturned his conviction because of improperly withheld evidence by the state.
When I met Shareef in 2007, he led me through the streets of Atlanta to a slightly shabby building in a deserted backstreet. This was his new place of work “The Southern Centre for Human Rights”, where he worked assisting families of other death row prisoners. We walked through dimly lit corridors lined with photos. Shareef pointed out the photo of a young Clive Stafford Smith who had been instrumental in gaining him his freedom. At his desk he proudly showed me his certificate of acceptance at the prestigious Morehouse College for African Americans where he was returning to his studies after having been, at 16, the youngest person to be sent to Louisiana’s death row.
“When I was arrested it never occurred to me that I would be found guilty.”
"It only really sank in that they were going to kill me when one day the man in the next cell was led away and executed."