A Bossier judge today overturned the conviction and life sentence of a man convicted of rape almost 40 years ago, thanks to the Innocence Project of New Orleans and DNA testing unavailable in June 1981 when the crime was commiitted.
Eric Prudholm, who at 21-years-old visited Louisiana from his California home in July 1981, and a month later, found himself in the middle of a nightmare reeling out of control, when he was arrested for Aggravated Rape (now 1st Degree Rape) and Armed Robbery, and convicted four months later.
District Judge Parker Self signed the joint-motion to vacate the conviction and sentence, which had a caveat that Prudholm enter a “No Contest” plea to Simple Robbery and accept a sentence of seven years, with credit for time served.
The order vacating Prudholm’s sentence acknowledges that he pleaded “guilty to bring an immediate end to his life sentence,” meaning he was taken back to Angola today, but will be processed out as a free man Thursday.
The order also states, “The court hereby accepts Mr. Prudholm’s plea of guilty without an admission of guilt…”
In court, Self said the charge was in reference to money and jewelry stolen during the sexual assault and robbery, though many witnesses have since testified Prudholm did not arrive in Louisiana until a month after the crimes were committed.
Although Louisiana has Louisiana’s compensation statute provides $25,000 per year of wrongful incarceration with a cap of $250,000 plus up to $80,000 for loss of life opportunities for those who have proved factual innocence, it’s unlikely that Prudholm will ever see a penny, since he entered the No Contest plea to the simple robbery charge.
In 2015, when the Louisiana Supreme Court overturned Shreveport defendant Glenn Ford’s 1984 1st Degree Murder conviction and Death Penalty sentence, Ford sued for restitution, which was denied.
The judge said even though Ford not commit the murder he still committed other petty crimes, and apparently knew the robbery was going to happen but did not make an effort to stop it.
Today’s No Contest plea, sometimes referred to as ‘Guilty’ plea in documents could very well take any restitution claims by Prudholm off the table.
But for now, the 58-year-old Prudholm is just happy to have the almost four-decade ordeal behind him.
He has called Angola home since his April 1982 sentence to life in prison for the Aggravated Rape conviction and an additional 50 years for the Armed Robbery conviction.
The crime concerned a rape and armed robbery committed in a Bossier motel on June 8, 1981. Three black men broken into a room in The Drummer’s Inn motel occupied by a husband and wife and their two children.
The men robbed the family at gunpoint, and two of the men raped the wife, while the husband and children were on an adjacent bed.
The men then bound the family and left the scene with the husband’s wallet and some jewelry. The husband was able to free himself and call police, who responded and began their investigation.
The wife was taken to a local hospital and examined by the Bossier Parish coroner, who took body samples.
In August, a lineup was shown to the couple. The husband was unable to identify anyone, but the wife selected co-defendants Reggie Hicks, James Gladney and Prudholm, who was visiting Louisiana from California, out of photographic lineups she was shown by police.
In addition, of five pubic hairs were found on the bed, four did not match any of the suspects, but a fifth was “sufficiently similar” that it “could have come from Prudholm.”
That was what they had, that was what they went to trial on, and that was what the three men were convicted of.
After Prudholm was sent to Angola, new information began to surface, and a Baton Rouge attorney filed an appeal with the Louisiana Supreme Court requesting a new trial, which was ultimately rejected.
Sue Prudholm, the defendant’s mother said her son was in California when the crimes were committed, and only came to Louisiana on July 5, 1981.
Prudholm’s brother-in-law, who held bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UCLA, corroborated Prudholm’s mother’s testimony, saying he knew Prudholm was in California throughout the month of June 1981, because he saw him on several occasions, some of which he was able to document.
The High Court did grant the hearing, however, and Prudholm’s mother and brother-in-law testified, along with co-defendant Hicks, who said Prudholm was not present during the commission of the crimes. Hicks named Gladney and a man named Kirk Johnson as his accomplices.
Hicks described Johnson as a light-skinned black man, about 5’8” or 9” tall with a long afro.
Johnson’s appearance was similar to Prudholm’s, except Prudholm had large acne pocks on his face and tattoos on his forearms. At the time, Prudholm did not wear his hair in an afro, but instead wore it in a Jeri curl, a style resembling a white person’s hair with a permanent.
Although the court acknowledged the evidence, they ruled against a new trial because they said the information could have been obtained before the original trial and that the defendant should have been more diligent in providing the alibi information.
Prudholm, however, testified several times that he believed he would be released after the preliminary hearing, so was unconcerned about telling his attorney anything.