A NEW ORLEANS TRIBUNE EDITORIAL:
Ray Nagin, Renee Gill Pratt Deserve New Trials
Of course, you have heard.
Kenneth Bowen, Robert Faulcon Jr., Robert Gisevius, Anthony Villavaso and Arthur Kaufman—the five former NOPD officers convicted of various federal crimes, ranging from deprivation of rights under color of law to using a weapon during commission of a crime of violence, to falsifying official records in a federal investigation and giving false statements to civil rights conspiracy for false prosecution, all related to the killings of an unarmed mentally disabled man, Ronald Madison, and an unarmed teenager, James Brissette, and the injuring of others atop the Danzinger Bridge just days after Hurricane Katrina—will be getting new trials thanks to a ruling by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld Judge Kurt Engelhardt’s earlier ruling overturning the guilty verdicts in the case.
The ruling came out just days before Katrina 10 Commemoration events kicked off. We already knew there wasn’t a much to commemorate in the ten years since Katrina. That appeals court ruling only affirmed our position.
We had always looked at the Danzinger verdicts as one tiny victory in a sea of injustice…the one wrong that was righted—even just a little bit. When it was announced some time ago that the verdicts were overturned, we were outraged, yet held out hope that maybe the ruling would be struck down on appeal. It wasn’t.
This is hard—harder still when we look at the reason behind the overturned verdicts and new trial orders.
The Scandal that Keeps on Giving
We have Jan Mann and Sal Perricone along with their former boss Jim Letten to thank for this horrible turn of events. Mann’s and Perricone’s pseudonymous rants regarding investigations and cases being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office on nola.com—yep, their prosecutorial misconduct—(at least that’s what Judge Engelhardt has called it) is the reason these verdicts have been overturned.
And as the U.S. Attorney at the time, Letten, who has claimed to have known nothing about what two of his chief assistants were doing, was ultimately forced to retire, stepping down or up (depending on how you look at, a cushy job at Tulane University is hardly a fall from grace) because of the scandal. The whole sordid mess put the local federal prosecutor’s office in a bad position for quite some time.
The Scandal that Hasn’t Given Enough: Fair is Fair
The reason we are so careful in the paragraphs above to state that the dirty deeds of Mann and Perricone are viewed as prosecutorial misconduct by Engelhardt as it relates to Danzinger is because for some strange reason the argument hasn’t worked for any other defendent in any other case prosecuted by the by the U.S. Attorney’s office although other cases were also discussed online by the not-so dynamic duo using fake names.
Renee Gill Pratt tried long ago to get some relief in her case. Now convicted and serving a four-year and two-month sentence, her attorney has wasted no time seeking a new trial in the wake of the Appeals Court upholding Engelhardt’s ruling. And why should he.
Gill Pratt’s case was one of those talked about by Mann and Perricone. If the Danzinger Five deserve a new trial, why should she be denied? We’ll wait. We’ll see.
We certainly expect—or at least urge—that an attorney acting on behalf of former Mayor Ray Nagin will do the same. To be sure, the federal probe and subsequent prosecution of him made for great fodder in Mann and Perricone’s posts. Oddly enough, during Nagin’s trial, his defense attorney asked for time to determine how Perricone and Mann’s acts may have impacted his case. In the wake of the initial decision to overturn the verdicts it certainly seemed like a fair enough request. It was denied.
One of Perricone’s comments went so far as to provide directions to Nagin’s home and suggest to readers that they visit him if they have a “penchant for firearms and how they work.”
Instead of getting what we believe was a fair shake, the judge hearing that motion characterized Mann’s and Perricone’s scandalous behavior as “utterly juvenile postings.” Uh, those postings had just dismantled the Danzinger case. What they did was dangerous, serious and grievous. How do we get “juvenile postings” from prosecutorial misconduct so dreadful that rogue cops get new trials after not only killing unarmed, innocent people in those hectic days after Katrina but conspiring to cover up their dirty deeds by planting evidence, conjuring up witnesses and making a mockery of our system of justice with their lies? When it came to Perricone and Mann sounding off about Nagin’s case on nola.com, prosecutorial misconduct suddenly becomes akin to the pranks of two wild teenagers.
Come on! What good is justice if it isn’t fair? If the Danzinger cops get new trials because of what Perricone and Mann did, then why not new trials for Nagin, Gill Pratt, heck, Aaron Broussard, too, for that matter? New trials all around. You get a new trial. You get a new trial. You get a new trial. Everybody gets a new trial! Maybe then we can put that ugly online commenting scandal behind us—finally.