Filed Under:  Civil Rights, Local

Group urges D.A. to file charges against man who shot 14-year-old

21st November 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Edmund W. Lewis
The Louisiana Weekly Editor

A group calling itself the Justice for Marshall Coulter Committee gathered outside the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office at 619 S. White Street recently to demand that D.A. Leon Cannizzaro file chargers against a former City of New Orleans employee who shot a 14-year-old boy in the head after discovering the teen in his Faubourg Marigny yard on —.

The boy, Marshall Coulter, has been hospitalized at University Hospital and remains in what has been described as “a vegetative state.”

The gunman, 33-year-old Merritt Landry, was employed at the time of the incident as a building inspector for the City of New Orleans’ Historic District Landmarks Commission and is the son of former St. Bernard Parish Justice of the Peace Larry Landry.

Marshall Coulter was shot in the head by Landry after he was discovered in the Marigny homeowner’s yard at 2 a.m. on July 26. Police said Coulter, who was unarmed, climbed over a six-foot fence surrounding the driveway and courtyard of Merritt Landry’s home.

Landy was arrested and booked with attempted second-degree murder but has not yet been formally charged by Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.

The shooting occurred less than two weeks after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin murder case in Sanford, Florida. It was also preceded by a number of local news stories about Faubourg Marigny homeowners being targeted by young criminals whose crimes were caught on tie,

“I think time will tell (whether Merritt was justified in using deadly force) and the narrative will speak for itself,”Tanzanika Ruffin, one of Landry’s attorneys, told WGNO in a recent interview.

D.A. Cannizzaro said Judge Ziblich allowed Landry to post an illegal $100,000 bond without filing the proper paperwork.

In an interview Thursday, Mike Howell, a member of the Justice for Marshall Coulter, said the media’s handling of the Marshall Coulter shooting and other cases is “horrendous.”

“First of all, some lives are valued more than others,: Howell told The Louisiana Weekly. “When a person who is white and wealthy or Black and wealthy, they will cover it. But if they’re Black and poor, the media doesn’t attach the same value to those people’s lives. It send the message that it’s no big deal to kill poor or Black people, but it is a big deal to kill rich people or white people.

“That’s one of the things the committee is trying to do, to get across the message that everybody’s life is equally valuable,” Howell added. “Marshall Coulter’s life is just as valuable as anybody else’s life.”

Howell says he has been disappointed by the lack of interest and local community support for the plight of Marshall Coulter. “The situation with Marshall Coulter is every bit as tragic as the Trayvon Martin incident,” he said. “Among other things, Marshall Coulter’s life is over. He’s still breathing but when you suffer serious brain damage, it’s a tragedy. The kid’s 14 years old and he’s battling severe brain damage and the quality of his life has been radically reduced. Not many people in the activist community seem to be interested in the case any more.”

Howell thinks part of the reason is the notion that Marshall Coulter was shot while trespassing. “If he was 30 feet away when he was shot, and he was shot in the head instead of the leg or the buttocks, that was a totally inappropriate response,” Howell said. “…If somebody is going to show that little respect for human life… (Merritt Landry) was a 14-year-old boy at one time. When I was 14 and others were 14, most of us trespassed but we weren’t shot for doing that… It’s just like, ‘OK, he’s a squirrel, a rat or something. We don’t want him running around — Let’s shoot him.’ That’s just wrong — it’s not acceptable.”

Howell said that residents taking the law into their own hands is not the answer to solving the city’s crime problem. “We’ve got this big problem with violence in our city —vigilantism will only add to this violence,” he said.

Howell dismissed the argument that Marshall Coulter shouldn’t be considered a victim since he was shot while engaged in an unlawful act. “That’s totally wrong,” he said. “Some of the worst crimes are committed as a result of people being overzealous in their response to an offense…The incident needs to be put in proper context. He’s a 14-year-old kid acting like a 14-year-old kid, doing something mischievous. But according to the NOPD themselves, he didn’t present a threat to life and limb, which is why they suggested that Merritt Landry be charged with attempted second-degree murder.”

Howell said that those who say the Trayvon Martin and Marshall Coulter cases are apples and oranges are reflecting class bias. “I think there’s a class bias because Marshall’s from a poorer section of town than Trayvon Martin was from,” he told The Louisiana Weekly.

Howell said he is disappointed that New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has not talked about the shooting of Marshall Coulter as part of his campaign to end gun violence against young people. “I am disappointed,” he said. “How many of our killings are retaliatory? This was a retaliatory killing — ‘You came on my lawn.’ This is uncalled for. This is violence. How many people in our community have died as a result of retaliatory killings?”

Community groups and civil rights organizations have questioned the impartiality of Orleans Criminal Court Judge Franz Zibilich, who had a previous relationship with the Landry family, after Landry was released on bond less than 24 hours after ne was arrested in the shooting and called for Zibilich’s resignation and an investigation.

Zibilich reportedly represented attorney Maxwell Landry, Merritt’s brother, in a 2007 federal drug trafficking case.

“There is boiling under the surface,” the Rev. Dwight Webster, pastor of Christian Unity Baptist Church, said at an NAACP press conference several months ago, referring to the message the Merritt Landry case sent to local Black youth. “They are beginning to wonder whether there is one code of justice that is equally applied to everyone.”

“There’s a tension in this city and if it’s not addressed properly, who knows what’s going to happen,” Danatus King, president of the New Orleans Branch of the NAACP, said.”

“If tensions are escalated now, if there’s a perception in the community that justice is not going to be done in this case, then I expect the tensions to heighten.”

Attorney Tracie Washington, president of the Louisiana Justice Institute, said that from a legal standpoint the shooting was not justified. “I recognize the guy had a wife at home who was pregnant,” Washington said. “Lots of people have extenuating circumstances. That jail is filled with people with extenuating circumstances.”

Others who have been outspoken about the case are civil rights activist Andy Washington, the Rev. Christiana Ford, pastor of House of Faith;, the Rev. Raymond Brown, a community activist and president of National Action Now; and W.C. Johnson, a member of Community United for Change and host of local cable-access show “OurStory.”

Rev. Ford, who pastors House of Fatth which is located several doors from Marshall Coulter’s family’s home, told CNN in early September that the teen had some behavioral problems but did not deserve to be shot in the head by Landry.

“He didn’t have no weapon, he wasn’t face to face to the man. He was about 30 feet away. It was just wrong,” Ford said. “… Every life’s invaluable, you know, even though he had a problem.”

“Well, first of all, if he is 30 feet away, not up on my door, I would have dialed 911 and prepared for the worst and hoped for the better,” the Rev. Raymond Brown told CNN when asked to respond to Landry supporters questions about how Landry’s critics would have handled the situation.

Brown told CNN that race was without a doubt a factor in the case and its aftermath. “Young Black men die every day. If he were white it would be a different situation,” Brown, who verbally sparred with white Landry supporters, later told CNN.

WGNO reported earlier this year that a group formed to support Landry held a “Justice for Merritt Landry” meeting in Mid-City that was organized by Captain Black and Mike Weinberger of the Home Defense Foundation of New Orleans.

“If it happened to me, somebody jumped over my fence, I live with an eight-foot fence around where I live, I wake up in the morning and somebody’s inside my fence, they would be killed,” Benjamin John said.

“I know the Landry family and I know Merritt well, and I think he was 110 percent justified. He’s protecting his family and his property,” Maureen Noonan told the crowded room of Landry supporters.

“If we can move past the racial narrative and just say New Orleanians are suffering, New Orleanians are dying, and New Orleanians are being victimized by regrettably other New Orleanians, I think that it would put our community in a much better place,” Nadar Enzi, who is also known as Captain Black, said.

“We want to make sure that the criminal justice system does not let the shooting of Marshall Coulter slip through the cracks like it has so many other cases where people have been shot, killed or permanently injured and wind up in the cold case files or simply not being dealt with,” Mike Howell of the Justice for Marshall Coulter Committee, told The Louisiana Weekly. “We want to make sure that someone doesn’t get off with a charge that really doesn’t reflect the severity of what actually occurred.”

The Justice for Marshall Coulter Committee held a Nov. 4 press conference outside the D.A.’s Office that invited the D.A. and his staff to attend but “We invited them but they didn’t show,” Howell told The Louisiana Weekly.

Howell says local community support for the effort to secure justice for Marshall Coulter has dwindled over the past few months, due in part to the slow wheels of justice and a misconnection that Merritt Landry has already been indicted by the D.A.

“I think a lot of people have been lulled into complacency by the assumption that just because the NOPD detectives recommended that Merritt Landry be charged with attempted second-decree murder that he has actually been charged with attempted second-decree murder,” Howell told The Louisiana Weekly. “That has not happened, at least not formally. …It’s been three months since the shooting occurred and there has been no significant movement on the part of the D.A. They’ve had a couple of status hearings but none of these hearings have led to a formal charging, and we think there should be a formal charge in this case.”

Howell has a message for the people of New Orleans: “Call the Orleans Parish D.A.’s Office and say, ‘What are you doing about the Marshall Coulter case? Are you going to follow through with the NOPD’s recommendation and charge (Merritt Landry) with attempted second-degree murder?’

“This kid’s life is valuable,” Howell added. “Just because he was trespassing doesn’t mean he should have been shot — he’s a kid and doesn’t know any better. Contact the D.A. and ask him if he’s going to prosecute Merritt Landry. Merritt and Marshall should both have their day in court and let a jury decide. All we’re saying to the D.A. is ‘Do your job.’”

The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office could not be reached for comment before The Louisiana Weekly went to press.

The Justice for Marshall Coulter Committee is currently planning a vigil to garner support for Marshall Coulter and to raise awareness about this case and the need for the NOPD to re-open the city’s long list of murder cold cases so that still-grieving families can have closure. Th0se plans will be publicized as soon as they are finalized, Howell said.

For more information about the Justice for Marshall Coulter Committee, call (504) 587-0080.

This article originally published in the November 18, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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