Frank stated that he didn’t know what he was doing when he pleaded guilty to a felony theft charge for stealing two shirts from a Saks Fifth Avenue store in 2000, which he said he had done that day and prior to support his heroin habit. Frank was initially given a 2-year sentence, but former District Attorney Harry Connick Sr.’s office invoked the habitual offender law, raising his minimum sentence to 20 years. After that, Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Sharon Hunter upped the sentence to 23 years.
Innocence Project New Orleans got in touch with Frank, and his current attorney, Meredith Angelson, stated that the entire system has failed him. Angelson stated, “Nobody ever offered a story of his life. Nobody ever proposed drug treatment. They just told him to shut up.”
Frank’s appeals were repeatedly rejected throughout the years, but the habitual offender laws have softened recently. Now, theft of under $500 would now be a misdemeanor. Angelson reached out to Frank and confirmed the details of his case, and was stunned that he had spent so long behind bars for shoplifting. She then contacted prosecutors, who quickly agreed to file a motion to remove Frank’s sentencing enhancement. Judge Benedict Williard then agreed to set Frank free.
Since his release, Frank has moved in with his sister and he has hopes of becoming a church deacon. He added, “I just want to be happy.”