- Associated Press - Thursday, July 10, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A 1986 drug conviction should be overturned because two prosecution witnesses now say a prosecutor in New Orleans coerced them to lie in court, a federal appeals court panel was told Thursday.

Milton Isaac is on parole on a 1986 life sentence for possessing 21 packets of heroin with intent to distribute the drug.

His lawyers say Isaac wasn’t accused of being a drug dealer, but of planning to give the heroin to a friend. That allegation rested on testimony from Carolyn Harris and Edgar Barabino, who now say they lied under threats made by the prosecutor.

Judge Edith Jones seemed skeptical that the verdict would have changed if Harris had said Isaac wanted heroin for himself because he was in withdrawal and if Barabino had testified that Isaac had taken packets of heroin from him.

“Their testimony was pretty small potatoes,” said Jones, on the panel with Judges Patrick Higginbotham and Edward Prado.

Former prosecutor Glynn Alexander, now in private practice, says he did nothing wrong.

The case is among a number alleging wrongdoing by prosecutors during Harry Connick Sr.’s 30 years as Orleans Parish district attorney. Connick retired in 2003. The current district attorney, Leon Cannizzaro, took office in 2009.

The Innocence Project New Orleans reported in 2008 that judges found that prosecutors under Connick withheld favorable evidence in nine of 36 cases that sent men to death row during his tenure and in at least 19 non-capital cases.

A handful of the men on death row were ultimately exonerated, Innocence Project-New Orleans staff attorney Carolyn Milne said Wednesday.

Alexander, reached at his law office Wednesday, said, “I’ve tried many verdict cases. I didn’t railroad anybody.”

He said the packets of heroin found in Isaac’s pockets when he was arrested were enough to back up the distribution charge.

In post-trial hearings in 2008, state District Judge Camille Buras heard testimony from Harris, Isaac’s former girlfriend; Barabino, at whose house Isaac was arrested; and Alexander.

Harris and Barabino both testified that they had lied on the stand under threats from Alexander.

Buras said their testimony was believable and jurors would not have convicted Isaac had they heard it.

The state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal overturned her ruling, saying Isaac already had argued unsuccessfully that the witnesses had lied, and couldn’t bring up that argument again. The appellate panel also found that Isaac had waited too long before bringing his current arguments.

U.S. District Judge Helen Ginger Berrigan ruled for Isaac. She said that although the witnesses could have been cross-examined at the trial, defense attorneys did not know then about the alleged misconduct “that suborned such false testimony.”

Jones said Berrigan’s ruling did not deal with the 4th Circuit’s reasoning, and should have.

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