In 1977, Vonda Lanell Harris was raped and murdered. In a bumbled investigation, Monroe Police pinned the crime on a Wossman High School student who spent 40 years of his life in prison before being exonerated by DNA.
The Perfect Patsy, a novel by Monroe Free Press publisher Roosevelt Wright Jr., is now available on Amazon. The 420-page historical fiction details the murder, the trial, imprisonment, and exoneration of Gerald Manning as it paints a picture of justice in 1977 Monroe, La.
In 1977, Harris was found raped and murdered in the Booker T. Community. After six months of intense investigations, police detectives interviewed over 60 suspects but still came up empty-handed.
Then they stumbled upon Gerald Manning, a Wossman High School athlete who mysteriously “confessed” to the Harris murder and to every open rape case on the police books. Many of the rape victims told police Manning was not their assailant, but it didn’t stop them from pinning its unsolved rapes on the gullible youth.
Despite two trials, and subsequent appeals, Manning was sentenced to life in prison.
The Monroe community never gave up on him as the local NAACP, a civil rights attorney and newspaper publisher, fought for his release for 40 years.
In one of his last acts as District Attorney Jerry Jones asked the Innocence Project of New Orleans to look into the Manning conviction. The organization specializes in defending suspects wrongfully convicted based on DNA evidence.
In 2018, DNA evidence excluded Manning as a suspect in the rape and murder, and he was released from prison. DNA evidence was not used in the legal system in 1977.
“While the book is about how Manning was wrongfully incarcerated, it also points out that the rape and murder of Vonda Lanell Harris remain unsolved,” said Wright.
“When the local police couldn’t solve the murder, Gerald Manning’s willingness to confess to rapes and a murder that he did not commit made him the perfect patsy,” said Wright.
The novel takes the reader back in time and draws the reader into 1977 Monroe politics and shows how politicians used the Manning case to defeat his attorney Paul Henry Kidd. Kidd represented most Black groups in Northeast Louisiana and filed suits challenging segregation and white supremacy.
The novel, extracted from court records, transcripts, and news accounts, details the epic fight to defeat Kidd at any cost.
Before his death in 2011, Paul Kidd said, “I have represented many guilty men and helped them get free. But, Gerald Manning is the first man that I ever represented who I knew as innocent, but was being falsely accused for political reasons.”
Manning now lives in Monroe. He said he harbors no ill will against those who stole 40 years of his life.