Nov 122018
 

A photo of Jennifer Thompson in college in the 1980s and Ronald Cotton in the booking photos she was shown after her rape. (via http://www.pickingcottonbook.com)

In 1984, a man broke into to college student Jennifer Thompson’s apartment while she was sleeping and raped her in her bed, but she did her utmost through the assault to scrutinize every aspect of his appearance so she could give police as complete a description as possible. She helped create a composite sketch that swiftly led to an arrest, and her testimony sent Ronald Cotton to prison for both her rape and another woman’s for two life sentences.

Ten years later, DNA evidence proved that Cotton was not, in fact, Thompson’s attacker, and that the actual rapist was a similar-looking man Cotton had been blaming throughout the appeals process. While Cotton sat in prison, that man committed dozens of other violent crimes, including six rapes — leading Thompson to the horrifying realization that her mistaken identification not only sent an innocent man to jail, but also allowed a rapist to walk the streets free.

“If we’re going to talk about wrongful conviction, we also have to talk about wrongful liberty,” Thompson said. “…Everybody gets hurt. Everybody is failed — everybody except the perpetrator, who lives to be free.” Continue reading »

Nov 092018
 

Robert Jones, who, in 2017, was exonerated of four different crimes from the 1990s, speaks to the audience at “Protecting the Innocent: Louisiana’s Reform of Eyewitness Identifications” at Loyola University New Orleans’ Law School on Friday, November 11. Jones was exonerated with the help of the Innocence Project of New Orleans. (Zach Brien, UptownMessenger.com)

Accurate descriptions of suspects have proven to be extremely difficult to come by, even under the best of circumstances, a noted criminologist said Friday morning during the 2018 Loyola Law Review Symposium, “Protecting the Innocent: Louisiana’s Reform of Eyewitness Identifications.”

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Oct 262018
 

From left: Will Snowden, Mithun Kamath, Norris Henderson, and Aaron Ahlquist discuss Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury law and the amendment that would change it.

Twelve men, one room, and a murder charge.

“It has to be twelve to nothing, either way. That’s the law.”

Sidney Lumet’s “12 Angry Men” is one of the most respected films centered around the criminal justice system. But the overall plot, where members of a 12-man jury must agree on a verdict that could send a teenager to the electric chair, could never occur in the state of Louisiana under state law.

Louisiana does not require unanimous jury verdicts in felony trials, instead allowing 10-2 verdicts to send the accused to prison for life. The abnormal verdict law stems from nearly 130 years ago, when delegates at an overtly racist convention ratified the state constitution to allow for non-unanimous juries. Norris Henderson, state director of the Unanimous Jury Coalition, explained the laws’ history during an intimate panel hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans.

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Oct 182018
 

Roland Butler (via NOPD)

A 45-year-old man has been indicted in connection with a violent rape in the Irish Channel more than two decades ago after DNA taken from him during a firearms arrest matched genetic material stored in a rape kit, New Orleans police and prosecutors said. Continue reading »

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Oct 112018
 

Martha Lemoine talks about the US Constitution to students of the Nancy Marsiglia Institute. (photo by Danae Columbus for UptownMessenger.com)

Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

In a fiery speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Gold Star father Khizr Khan talked about falling in love with the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. A Pakistani immigrant whose son Army Captain Humayun Khan was killed in Iraq in 2004, Khan offered to lend Donald Trump his copy so Trump could look up the words “liberty” and “equal protection under the law.”

New Orleans civic activist Madalyn Schenk was inspired by Khan’s speech and decided to form a different kind of book club – one that exclusively studied the Constitution and accompanying documents. That “constitution club” has now grown into the Nancy Marsiglia Institute, a 12-week cooperative program between Loyola University Law School and the United Way of Southeast Louisiana. The late philanthropist Nancy Marsiglia was the first person Schenk approached to participate. Soon other women including Councilmember Helena Moreno, Patty Riddlebarger, Ruth Kullman and United Way COO Charmaine Caccioppi joined in. Constitution expert Martha Lemoine Palmer, a mentor teacher and national judge for the Center for Civic Education’s We the People project, agreed to lead the class. Loyola Law School Dean Madeleine Landrieu – then Appeals Court Judge – bestowed the first graduation certificates. Continue reading »

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Sep 272018
 

Volunteers with the New Leaders Council assist with voter registration at an event for the Unanimous Jury Coalition at Urban South Brewery on Tuesday, Sept. 25. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

The statewide effort to create a constitutional amendment requiring a unanimous jury vote for a conviction came to Uptown New Orleans this week, registering voters and rallying supporters for the Nov. 6 ballot question. Continue reading »

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Jul 212018
 

Second City Court Constable Edwin Shorty Jr. swears that his filing information is correct during qualifying on Wednesday, July 18. Shorty is one of six local officials re-elected without opposition during qualifying. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

Four local judicial seats will be filled without elections this year, after only one candidate for each of them qualified to be on the Nov. 6 special and Congressional election ballots. Continue reading »

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Jul 192018
 
Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

With qualifying currently underway for clerk and other positions in both First City and Second City Courts, good government advocates are questioning why Orleans Parish still operates two separate courts with two clerks and constables that basically perform the same function – handling small claims. Continue reading »

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Jul 182018
 

Jared Brossett, left, and Chelsey Richard Napoleon both qualified to run for clerk of Civil District Court on Wednesday morning. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

Jared Brossett and Chelsey Richard Napoleon both officially declared their candidacies for clerk of Civil District Court, and Timothy David Ray and Austin Badon filed to run for First City Court clerk on Wednesday morning as qualifying began for the Nov. 6 special and Congressional elections.

Timothy David Ray (left) and Austin Badon officially qualify to run for clerk of First City Court on Wednesday. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)


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Jul 132018
 

Sandy Kaynor Jr. (via joneswalker.com)

The three men already serving multiple-decade sentences in prison for a crime spree that included the shooting of attorney Sandy Kaynor in October of 2012 will not be tried again for murder now that he has died, the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office announced Thursday afternoon. Continue reading »

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Jul 122018
 

A Sixth District task force sergeant stands outside the crime scene marked off at the corner of Camp and Delachaise streets, where Sandy Kaynor was shot in the chest during a carjacking Oct. 2, 2012. (UptownMessenger.com file photo by Robert Morris)

Sandy Kaynor Jr. (via joneswalker.com)

The death of attorney Sanford Kaynor in April was the result of being shot six years earlier in his driveway, Orleans Parish Coroner Dwight McKenna announced late Thursday morning. Continue reading »

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Jul 092018
 

Mario Zervigon, left, touches on how maintaining relationships in the state legislature helped pass the unanimous jury bill during a New Orleans Coalition meeting. From left: Representative Royce Duplessis; Sarah Omojola, director of the Welcoming Project; and Senator J.P. Morrell.

Members of the New Orleans Coalition gathered Uptown Sunday afternoon to discuss the fate of – and the impact of – criminal justice reform legislation in Louisiana. Senator J.P. Morrell and Representative Royce Duplessis were on hand to recap the most recent legislative session and how each bill was successfully passed, as well as what issues will be front and center next year. Sarah Omojola, former Policy Counsel for Southern Poverty Law Center and current Director of the Welcoming Project, touched on the legislative process from an advocacy level. Mario Zervigon, of the Zervigon Consulting Group, moderated the panel.

Both Morrell and Duplessis touched on how term limits will affect the new representatives’ learning curves, since the number of experiences legislators dwindle every year. Duplessis said leaning on longtime senators helped him learn the ins and outs of the legislative process. Losing older Republicans to newly elected ones who lack “flexibility and are drunk on their election” is going to be one of the most devastating impacts from term limits, Morrlel said. Continue reading »

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