New Trials Ordered For Danziger Shooters!
Prosecutorial misconduct was the reason given by the federal appeals court that made the ruling earlier this week. Our own 5th U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the huge ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Kurt Englehardt that vacated all five officers’ convictions. They had been found guilty of all 25 counts related to the 2005 Katrina shootings and cover-up.
Writing for the court, Judge Edith Brown Clement mostly agreed with the devastating critique of the Danziger prosecution by Englehardt, who in 2013 overturned the guilty verdict after it became known that high ranking prosecutors had made anonymous comments about the case on NOLA.com, and covered it up.
I’ve covered the ups and downs, convictions and appeals, etc. of the Danziger Five for quite some time. Here’s a story I wrote when the defendants received long sentences.
Only a naif would think that these people, and their families and friends, were not only avidly consuming all available sources of information from the inception of the prosecution through trial, wrote Clement. Even if jurors never read the comments made by prosecutors, officers weighing their decision to testify against their peers may well have done so. Inflammatory and biased online comments must have affected the participants’ approaches to their defense, testimony or decisions to testify, she wrote.
Before imposing the sentences, Engelhardt delivered a two-hour tirade in which he railed against the government’s handling of the case and noted that because of mandatory sentencing minimums, he was hamstrung in determining the penalties. He said he was especially uncomfortable with the prosecution’s use of cooperating witnesses who participated in the scheme but then confessed and were rewarded with comparatively lenient sentences.
Using liars to convict liars is no way to pursue justice,”he said. Later, he added that citing witnesses for perjury at this trial would be like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500. Here’s my story on the chief liar witness who cut a major deal for his testimony.
In December of last year, when Engelhardt ordered new trials, the Justice Department began investigating him as they think he overstepped his bounds when he overturned the trial results. Not sure what became of this investigation.
I never thought the NOLA.com forums influenced the trial that much. I can see the potential for big harm, and the prosecutors who anonymously contributed to the online boards were way out of line. I also think Englehardt was somewhat out of line with his virulent comments during the Danziger Five sentencing.