When word filtered through the prison grapevine that Hurricane Katrina had inundated the basement evidence lockers at New Orleans Police Department headquarters and the criminal courthouse, hundreds of pretrial inmates quietly cheered, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune. With evidence from rape kits to bags of cocaine underwater for several days, police and prosecutors admitted the chances of obtaining convictions in many cases probably had been washed away.
To a smaller group of inmates, the news was devastating. Those inmates, most of them lifers who already have been locked away for years, were counting on the dusty old evidence to buttress long-standing claims of innocence. A few of them were within months of being granted DNA tests that could have exonerated them outright. Most of the evidence in old cases was flooded and possibly ruined, snapping once promising threads of hope for the inmates and their families. “I cried. I cried for days,” said Emily Maw of Innocence Project New Orleans, a nonprofit group dedicated to freeing the wrongfully convicted.