Charges dropped against suspect in 2016 cold case slaying of Tulane graduate

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Authorities have dropped charges against a suspect in the 2016 cold case slaying of a 25-year-old Tulane University graduate who was visiting New Orleans to plan his wedding.

“Serious issues” with a critical witness's availability arose and led the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office to ask on Tuesday that charges be dismissed against Ernest Weatherspoon, the DA said, without elaborating, in a news release.

Thomas Rolfes, of St. Louis, had come back to the city on a Mother’s Day weekend to meet with his fiancée and scout wedding venues. He was found May 7, 2016, shot to death at an intersection after leaving a bar.

Weatherspoon, 46, was arrested and indicted in December 2021 by a special grand jury on one count each of armed robbery and second-degree murder.

District Attorney Jason Williams said his office has been in close contact with Rolfes’ family, who agreed that dismissal was the best course of action at this time.

“Our office is committed to exhausting all avenues to ensure justice for Mr. Rolfes and this family, who have endured a tremendous loss,” Williams said in the news release.

Weatherspoon had been in jail since his arrest.

John Fuller, Weatherspoon’s defense attorney, told The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate that prosecutors earlier this month offered his client a plea deal that would have handed him a guaranteed 10-year-prison sentence. Weatherspoon declined, and was scheduled to go to trial on Tuesday.

Fuller said Weatherspoon was “ecstatic” at the news that charges had been dismissed.

“He’ll be going home for Mother’s Day,” Fuller said, “which was always our goal.”