Woman convicted of murder as a teen will be released on parole

After spending her entire adult life behind bars, Michele Benjamin learned Monday that she will be able to go free, the Loyola University Law Clinic has announced. Benjamin, 41, was a teenager when she was sentenced to life without parole in 1996 for the murder of a German tourist in New Orleans. The Loyola law clinic began filing appeals in her case not long after life sentences for juveniles were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012. That ruling, in Miller v. Alabama, was made retroactive by the Louisiana Supreme Court in 2016, paving the way for Benjamin’s release on parole. The circumstances of Benjamin’s case have inspired support in the local social justice community.

Who Dat Nation files class-action lawsuit against NFL

Story by Kristine Froeba

Saints fans have filed a lawsuit in state court to compel the commissioner of the National Football League, Roger Goodell, to apply implement Rule 17, Section2, Article 1 and 3, which gives the commission the power of “reversal of the game’s result or rescheduling a game either from the beginning or the point in which the extraordinary act occurred.”

The suit is in direct relation to the NFL’s referee’s no-call, or refusal to flag, a PI, or pass interference, and helmet-on-helmet violation — witnessed by over 30 million people during Sunday’s Divisional game between the New Orleans Saints and the Los Angeles Rams.

Civil District Court in New Orleans, located on Poydras Street, has published a copy of the lawsuit on its online database, and local attorneys are already discussing the outcome. The caption of the lawsuit reads:
Badeaux, Tommy, New Orleans Saints Ticket Holders, New Orleans Saints National Fan Base a/k/a the Who Dat Nation versus NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, et al. An observation by New Orleans attorney Duris Holmes is that the NFL’s attorney is usually the same attorney retained by the Bensons and the Saints football team. A Writ of Mandamus was also filed, “a writ directing a public officer or a corporation or an officer thereof to perform” certain duties. That duty for a corporation includes, “the performance of other duties required by the corporate charter or bylaws,” as explained by leading attorney Duris Holmes via social media.

Judge holds Sewerage & Water Board liable for $500,000 in damages to 11 homes near drainage projects

A civil judge found the Sewerage & Water Board liable this week for more than $500,000 in damages to 11 homes along the major Napoleon Avenue drainage project, awarding sums ranging from $13,000 to $110,000 to the individual homeowners as hundreds more cases remain pending. The judgment, signed Tuesday by Civil District Court Judge Nakisha Ervin-Knott finds that the Southeast Louisiana Urban Drainage Project caused damage to the plaintiffs’ homes or exacerbated damage that already existed, and that the Sewerage & Water Board is the agency responsible. Ervin-Knott also specifies the pile-driving as a cause of the damage on Napoleon Avenue, and details exactly how much the project cost each of the 11 plaintiffs in actual damage and loss of use of their property. According to a news release from attorney Michael Whitaker’s office:

The judgment was handed down in the second of what will be many trials. So far, 21 claims have been tried by the Court, leaving more than 280 to go.

A harrowing account of mistaken identity: A rape survivor helped send a man to prison for life, only for DNA evidence to prove his innocence 10 years later (FULL VIDEO)

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.

Why are accurate descriptions of crime suspects so difficult to come by? (Live coverage of Loyola Law Review symposium)

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.” The quality of witness descriptions is heavily influenced by both the quality of the witness’s memory and the techniques used by law enforcement to elicit those details, said Dr. Jennifer Dysart of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. For example, the presence of a weapon in a robbery often occupies the victim’s attention more than the suspect’s face, and brain research simply shows that all people have more trouble identifying facial features of races different from their own. New research has identified techniques to improve the accuracy of these descriptions, Dysart said, so law-enforcement training should begin to include them. The symposium also included a presentation by Robert Jones, who was wrongfully convicted of a crime spree in New Orleans in the 1990s, but went on to become Angola’s prison counsel for nearly 20 years before he was exonerated and released in 2017.

Two men indicted in separate murder cases in Broadmoor, Carrollton, prosecutors say

Two men accused in separate murders in Broadmoor and Carrollton earlier this year were indicted Thursday by a grand jury, prosecutors said. The first indictment was in the fatal killing of 31-year-old Keyan Watkins on April 18 in the 3600 block of South Roman Street. Kline Lee, 51, is charged with second-degree murder and other offenses after allegedly shooting Watkins and another woman after an argument over money escalated, said District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office:

Kline Lee, 51, was charged with obstruction of justice, being a felon in possession of a firearm, attempted second-degree murder and the second-degree murder of Keyan Watkins in a four-count indictment handed up by an Orleans Parish grand jury. Ad hoc Criminal District Judge Dennis Waldron set Lee’s bond at $900,000 after the indictment was read. Watkins, 34, died from a gunshot to the face sustained around 9:18 p.m. in the 3600 block of South Roman Street on April 18, 2018.

As non-unanimous jury amendment vote nears, the fate of 12-member juries loom

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.

Suspect indicted in 1996 rape in Irish Channel after DNA match, police say

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. Roland Butler, 45, was indicted by a grand jury Thursday (Oct. 11) on two counts of aggravated rape in connection with a rape that took place around 4:30 a.m. April 5, 1996, in the 1100 block of Toledano Street, according to District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office:

The victim reported to New Orleans police that she had arrived home when an unknown assailant approached and demanded her purse and keys at gunpoint. The man then ordered her to perform oral sex, and attempted to rape her vaginally against the side of his four-door gold colored sedan. The gunman ordered the woman into his car and drove her farther down Toledano Street before raping her a second time.

Danae Columbus: Nancy Marsiglia Institute promotes knowledge of U.S. Constitution, civil discourse

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.

Campaign to require unanimous jury verdicts comes to Uptown with voter-registration effort

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. Constitutional Amendment 2 — placed on the ballot after the legislature’s passage of a bill by state Rep. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans — will ask voters the simple question of whether they “support an amendment to require a unanimous jury verdict in all noncapital felony cases.” The proposed change has drawn national praise, as 48 other states have long required unanimous verdicts, and bipartisan support from Republicans as an issue of constitutional rights and liberals as a civil-rights reform. On Tuesday, the Unanimous Jury Coalition found support from local chapters of the New Leaders Council, a political-development organization for young progressives, and When We All Vote, a project spearheaded by former First Lady Michelle Obama to increase voter turnout.