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U.S. Supreme Court is a harsh critic of D.A.’s defense

28th November 2011   ·   0 Comments

By Michael Radcliff
Contributing Writer

On July 25,1995 an article by lawyer, extra funds payday loan author and legal analyst Jeffrey R. Toobin appeared in The New Yorker magazine suggesting that LAPD detective Mark Furman planted evidence in an attempt to “frame a guilty man.” It was because of tainted evidence that it is generally believed that the prosecution lost this high-profile case.

Few people who knew Juan Smith question that he was in fact a murderer. On Feb. 5, 1995, Smith masterminded the triple homicide of former New Orleans Saint’s player Bennie Thompson’s ex-wife Tangie Thompson; his three-year-old son Devyn Thompson and Tangie’s fiancé, Andre White, on Morrison Road, while looking for cash and a stash of drugs — neither of which existed. Even Juan’s sister, Trenise Smith, acknowledged that he told her that he “shot the baby [three-year-old Devyn Thompson] because the baby was looking at him.” Smith was subsequently convicted and given a death penalty for each of the victims. Yet before he would be placed on the scene of this murder, he would first be arrested, tried and convicted for the North Roman St. massacres.

According to a brief filed to the United States Supreme Court by New Orleans’ District Attorney’s Office on March 1, 1995, “A small group of friends gathered in the front room of a home. Hearing a disturbance outside, one of the friends, Larry Boatner opened the door. Armed men burst in demanding drugs and money. Larry Boatner was held at gunpoint. His other friends were ordered to lie on the floor. After an exchange of words, the first intruder struck Larry Boatner in the head, causing a severe laceration. Mr. Boatner fell and pretended to be unconscious. The intruders then opened fire, executing James Jackson, 43; Ian Jackson, 24; Willie Leggett, 22; Robert Simmons, 28; and Shalita Russell, 17. Only Boatner survived.

At the scene Boatner supplied the first responding officer with a physical description of the perpetrator who pointed the gun in his face. While still in the house, standing among the bodies of his friends, and bleeding from his head, Boatner provided a second officer with a description of the fast cash program weapons used but stated that he could not provide a description of the perpetrators other than that they were Black males. Four hours later after being treated for his head wound, Boatner was taken to the Homicide office, where he provided a formal statement. The formal statement included a physical description of the perpetrator who pointed the gun in his face as well as a description of the weapons used. Five days later, when asked if he could identify any of the perpetrators, Boatner said, he “could not.” To pretty much guarantee a conviction in an already strong case, the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office opted to conceal this statement from Smith’s defense attorney and in essence violate the constitutional rights under Brady v. Maryland (1963), to turn over evidence that could have helped Smith’s lawyers defend him. The Brady precedent requires prosecutors to turn over only evidence that would be “material” to the case — that is, evidence that bears significantly on guilt or innocence.) of a murderer, to his due process.

Over the course of 90 days Boatner subsequently viewed the faces of 72 individuals who were presented to him in photo line-ups; he only identified one person – Juan Smith. Juan Smith and co-defendant Phillip Young were indicted on August 31, 1995 on five counts of capital murder\ in connection with the March 1, 1995 shooting deaths of five individuals inside a residence at 2230 North Roman St., New Orleans, La. In the same indictment, Juan Smith and three co-defendants were charged with three counts of capital murder, relating to the February 5, 1995 shooting death of three individuals inside a home on Morrison Road in eastern New Orleans.

At the trial, Boatner pointed out Juan Smith as the man who burst into the house and pointed the gun in his face. Juan Smith was convicted on five counts of first-degree murder. Phillip Young, one of the defendants who was accidently shot in the head at the North Roman massacre, suffered permanent brain damage and as such personal loans for bad credit greenville sc was unable to assist with his defense – all charges were subsequently dropped against him. Juan Smith, on the other hand, was convicted on December 5, 1996 of the Morrison Road murders and sentenced to death for each count.

The question before the United States Supreme Court is if the victim’s undisclosed pre-trial statement undermines confidence in the outcome in Juan Smith’s trial such that he was denied due process of the law.

In a brief supporting Mr. Smith, the Orleans Public Defenders Office said that 28 convictions obtained by the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office were later ruled to have been tainted by violations of the Brady rule. These intentional violations of Brady have had very real consequences. According to the Innocence Project, 10 prisoners have been exonerated since 1990 in Orleans Parish in such cases. Four of these defendants who were sentenced to death were later exonerated in cases involving the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office’s repeated violations of the Brady rule while another defendant, who was sentenced to death, was granted a new trial last year..

In the first of two capital cases which has already caught the attention of the Supreme Court, the Justices in 1995 admonished then-District Attorney Harry F. Connick “to be more careful.” Justice John Paul Stevens, as far back as 1995, called the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office’s violations “blatant and repeated.”

The second case involved a civil claim brought by a former death row inmate John Thompson, who was awarded $14 million by a jury after being exonerated after spending 18 years on death row, when withheld evidence came to light. Even though the high court said prosecutors here had violated their duty to see justice done, they in a 5-4 split decision denied Mr. Thompson his award, saying that he was not entitled to the jury award because he had not “overcome the doctrine of prosecutorial immunity.”

In the dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that “misperception and disregard of Brady’s disclosure requirements were pervasive” and thus indicative of a low interest personal loan transfer systemic issue as opposed to a single rogue prosecutor.

In its third appearance in less than 16 years before the high court regarding the same issue, instead of the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office simply admitting the error of a past administration, it instead chose to attempt to defend an indefensible position – before the highest court in the land – the United States Supreme Court. On Tuesday November 8, 2011, D.A. Leon Cannizzaro’s sacrificial lamb, Assistant District Attorney Donna R. Andrieu, attempted to rationalize her office’s suggestion that an individual’s constitutional rights should not apply to the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office. Justice after Justice, both liberal and conservative took turns at humiliating Ms. Andrieu. It was so bad that at one point one of the Justices asked her point blank if her office had ever considered simply forfeiting the case. For a time, Ms. Andrieu valiantly attempted to remain a moving target, until two justices, Elena Kagan and Antonin Scalia, one liberal and one conservative, finally told her that her office should just admit their error.

Andrieu attempted to persuade the Court that Mr. Boatner’s statement that he could not identify the suspect was not “material” to the case. But this only irritated the justices, and would only bring about further humiliation to Ms. Andrieu. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who finally lost her patience with Ms. Andrieu, sarcastically asked “How [can you say] that inconsistent statements by the only eyewitness to the killings are not material?” Yet it was only after Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. asked if Ms, Andrieu “thought that Juan Smith’s attorney would have liked to have known that Mr. Boatner at one point told police that he could not identify any of the attackers” that Ms. Andrieu would finally concede “Yes.”

The Supreme Court is expected to render a decision in this case sometime next year.

This article was originally published in the November 28, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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