St. Mary Project Exonerates 18 Iberia Parish Residents In 2018

A new state wide initiative has helped exonerate 18 Iberia Parish residents from small drug crimes in 2018.

The Promise of Justice Initiative created the St. Mary Project after looking into the work of the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Unit.

“We became aware of a culture of fear that existed among folks in this community.” said Mercedes Montagnes, Executive Director of the Promise of Justice Initiative.

Montagnes says for the 18 people they were able to exonerate the group they discovered that the deputies manufactured evidence

“Some are men, some are women, some are white, some are black, all of them were poor, all of them were powerless.” she said.

Seeing that the defendants claimed their innocence but were serving jail time anyway, they partnered with the Iberia Parish District Attorney’s Office

“For a person who is convicted of a crime, it becomes much harder to secure housing, it becomes much harder to get a job, it becomes harder to get custody of your children. This has profound impacts on people’s lives.” said Montagnes.

The St. Mary Project is also part of the larger Louisiana for Prison Alternatives Coalition who is working pass laws to shorten sentences to drastically reduces incarceration rates in the state.

“People are more than the worst things they’ve done in their lives and so while these individuals are not guilty of what they did and they deserve a fresh start. I really believe everyone does and what happened here is the symptom of a sickness that we all have to work together to cure so we can be a state that looks forward and uplifts people.” said Montagnes.