A Louisiana man whose murder conviction was tossed after the Supreme Court ruled that verdicts for serious crimes must be unanimous has been found not guilty at his second trial.
The New Orleans jury’s verdict that exonerated 50-year-old Evangelisto Ramos on Wednesday was unanimous.
Jubilant defense attorney Sarah Chervinsky said the jury’s decision, which was reached after less than four hours of deliberation, was another repudiation of a Jim Crow-era system that was designed to maintain white supremacy in Louisiana.
“This verdict cements Evangelisto Ramos’ legacy, not only for ending unconstitutional Jim Crow juries but also as a symbol for the countless others who have been wrongfully convicted by an unjust system from a bygone era,” Chervinsky told reporters.
In an interview Thursday with NBC News while en route to pick up Ramos from the Orleans Justice Center, Chervinsky said her client has been behind bars continuously since he was arrested in February 2015.
“The best way I can describe his reaction after the verdict was that he was finally at peace,” she said. “This has been a long and grueling journey.”
Ramos was born in Honduras but spent most of his adult life in New Orleans. “He’s been in touch with his family in both places and has been talking about what he plans to do with the rest of his life,” Chervinsky said.
Ramos was convicted in 2016 of second-degree murder in the killing two years earlier of a woman whose body was found dumped in a municipal trash can.
The jury in Ramos’ first trial was split 10-2 and he was sentenced to life in prison. At the time, in 48 other states outside of Louisiana and Oregon this would have resulted in a mistrial.
Ramos’ lawyers took his case to the Supreme Court, which in 2020 ruled by a 6-3 vote that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial requires unanimous verdicts.
That Supreme Court ruling came two years after Louisiana changed its law to require unanimous verdicts. But while it outlawed non-unanimous verdicts in the state, the new Louisiana law did not reverse previous split-jury convictions like that of Ramos.
So Ramos remained behind bars while awaiting a new trial, Chervinsky said.
Ramos’ second trial concluded Wednesday after three days of testimony, with all 12 jurors in agreement that Orleans Parish prosecutors failed to prove that the Honduran immigrant had stabbed Trenice Fedison to death in 2014, Chervinsky said.
CORRECTION (March 9, 2023, 3:55 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the year Evangelisto Ramos was arrested. It was 2015, not 2014.