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Member of family killed by drunk driver continues fight for justice

15th April 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Kelly Parker
Contributing Writer

John Gaines Jr.’s fight for justice has been likely as heartrending as losing six of his family members in a tragic car accident nearly two years ago. Despite the obstacles, it’s a fight he plans to continue.

The late Kojo Livingston introduced the case to The Louisiana Weekly readers two years ago, detailing the May 30, 2012 incident in Slaughter, La; in which the car driven by Gaines’ mother, Brenda, of Baton Rouge, was struck head-on by Brett Gerald, killing the majority of the passengers instantly.

Gerald, 30, of Greensburg, was arrested by the Louisiana State police and booked into the East Feliciana Parish Prison. He refused to blow into the Breatha?lyzer, and had a 0.15 blood alcohol level at the time of the incident; nearly two times the legal limit.

Along with Brenda Gaines, other victims (all of Baton Rouge) were Denise Gaines, 33; Diamond Johnson, 12; Jyren Johnson, 6; and Angela Moseley, 35, a fellow church member. Two other loved ones; Willie Gaines, 15, and Roderick Johnson Jr., 13, were critically injured in the accident and later died.

After killing five people instantly and critically injuring two others, Gerald was released the next day on a $256,000 property bond. What the family did not know at the time was that this was not Gerald’s first arrest for intoxicated driving.

It was this turn of events that prompted Gaines., to search for answers on his own.

“There were several prior DWI arrests that were not included in his PSI (pre-sentencing investigation) report,” according to
Gaines.

Gaines said that East Feliciana Parish District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla claims he was not aware of the earlier DWI cases from 2004, 2007 and 2008; even though records show that he prosecuted Gerald for the 2008 case.

“If you prosecuted this young man in 2008 on the same highway, how was that omitted from the original PSI if you’re prosecuting the 2012 case?” Gaines told The Louisiana Weekly. “He couldn’t answer that.”

A civil lawsuit has also been filed against Gerald.

“That’s where the problem lies,” he adds. “We, as a family believe there has been prosecutorial misconduct and possibly political and family ties involved.”

According to Gaines’ research, Gerald’s grandfather was three-term senator and a Baton
City councilmember.

“The police report does not tell the story of how bad it was,” says Gaines, who claims that testimonies of key witnesses that were at the scene were excluded from the reports as well.

“No one took statements from the eyewitnesses of this case, not even the state troopers.”

In May 2013, a judge reduced Gerald’s sentence, in order to comply with a Supreme Court ruling. Gerald received a 70-year sentence after pleading guilty back in March. Judge William Carmichael reduced that to 35 years without the possibility of probation or parole.

The resentencing came because of a Supreme Court ruling days after Gerald’s sentencing. The court ruled prisoners must serve 85 percent of any vehicular homicide sentence. The judge reduced Gerald’s sentence so the potential date of his release due to good behavior would match his original intention.

Earlier this month, members of the Gaines family gathered on the steps of the State Capitol Building, voicing their concerns regarding Senate Bill 55; recently proposed to stiffen penalties for drunk drivers.

The family says it wants Gerald, who initially pled not guilty but later entered a guilty plea, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

“We think he should serve a life sentence.” Gaines says.

SB55 adds vehicular homicide, when the convicted offender’s blood-alcohol concentration exceeds 0.20 percent, to the list of 44 crimes that can be designated a crime of violence. With that finding, courts can sentence offenders to longer terms in prison and negate many of the early release programs.

State Sen. Bob Kostelka, R-Monroe (the bill’s sponsor), said the purpose of SB55 is to set a bright line in defining “intent,” which is a necessary component in finding an offender committed a crime of violence.

He adds that the Louisiana Law Institute came up with the 0.20 level at which the person is clearly drunk and should know that the drunken condition inhibits the ability to operate a vehicle.

Armed with a police photograph of his dead mother’s mangled body, Gaines told reporters (on March 31) that the designated blood level in the bill is too extreme.

“Getting behind the wheel of a vehicle at anything above that level satisfies the provision that the driver knew or should have known that the result could be death or serious bodily harm to another,” Gaines said. “Brett Gaston Gerald had a 0.15 blood alcohol level and he killed seven people. Don’t you think that’s a crime of violence? Your (BAC) level goes down (.05) every hour, so that means that his blood-alcohol level was likely three times the limit, but they let him sober up.”

The 39 state senators convened and unanimously approved SB55 without debate.

The legislation will go to the Louisiana House.

“We believe this bill was drafted as a political favor, to help further assist getting Brett Gerald out.” Gaines adds.

The family has not received an explanation regarding the record of Brett Gerald’s prior offenses, nor have they received much counsel or support from area officials.

“I spoke with one city council member about this case—she asked me: ‘Y’all not scared?’ Scared of what? Nobody wants to touch this, because of the politics,” he says. “I’ve reached out to a few pastors—they don’t want to touch this, because of the politics.” It’s been the local media outlets that have helped keep this story alive.”

Gaines has also filed a complaint against the District Attorney with the Department of Justice. “All of our (victims) rights were violated in this case,” he said.

He told The Louisiana Weekly, if anything, he hopes this ordeal serves as a wakeup call for citizens in the state to educate themselves on their rights.

“The D.A. won’t tell you that you have the right to review a PSI, even though when you sign up for victim’s notification, that enables your right to do so. People have not educated themselves on the laws. Typically, people think ‘If I get an attorney) and pay him a fee; he’s going to do the job.’ But it behooves a person to learn the law to instruct the attorney. When I requested to review the PSI, they denied my right.” I guess they didn’t think I was educated enough to know this.”

Gaines, who is employed by the Elayn Hunt correctional center in St. Gabriel, La., (the second-largest prison in the state) was well-versed in state laws, but has gained even more knowledge fighting for justice for his loved ones.

“It’s some real serious issues, and I want to make known to the public and make them aware of what’s really going on. The system is as guilty as he is,” he said, adding that he plans to push for changes in the criminal justice system on several fronts.

Gaines wishes it to be known that his efforts are not fueled by vengeance or a vendetta.

“We forgive him, but justice must be served,” he told The Louisiana Weekly. “Forgiveness and justice are two different things. “This is not just about my family—this is about anybody’s family. I don’t want anyone to go through what we’ve gone through.”

This article originally published in the April 14, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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