Following the 8-1 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Juan Smith’s murder convictions in January 2012, the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office is back to its old tricks by stymieing the efforts of defense counsel to shed light on why exculpatory evidence was withheld in the case.
Smith, whose conviction for a quintuple murder was used by the Orleans DA’s office to secure a death sentence against him in a different murder case, was granted a new trial after the case fell apart on account of prosecutorial misconduct. His death sentence was also vacated, though the conviction in that case still stands. Claire Garofalo of The Advocate describes the Supreme Court’s opinion in Smith’s case as a “shellacking” of the Orleans DA’s office. She outlines the misconduct that led to the decision in her September 11, 2013 article:Early on the morning of March 2, 1995, hours after he witnessed the bloodbath, Larry Boatner told [police officer] Kaufman he saw no one. “I was too scared to look at anybody,” he said to the sergeant, who 15 years later was convicted of masterminding the cover-up of the post-Katrina police shootings on the Danziger Bridge. Kaufman’s role in the 1995 investigation has become a flashpoint in one of the most-controversial cases to make a second appearance at Orleans Parish Criminal District Court. Three months after Boatner told Kaufman that he was too terrified to look at the shooters, he picked Juan Smith from a lineup, and declared that he’d never forget his face. During the 1996 trial that sent Smith to prison for five lifetimes, prosecutors never revealed that Boatner had, at first, claimed he never saw the shooters.
This Brady evidence was particularly powerful since no other witnesses and no physical evidence implicated Smith in the crime.
Sgt. Archie Kaufman was the police officer to take a statement from Boatner just hours after the murders. This statement was never disclosed to the defense. Fifteen years later, Kaufman was convicted and sent to prison for orchestrating one of the most high-profile police cover-ups in the country: the Danziger Bridge murders. He is now serving six years jail time in a federal prison in Virginia.
And Smith wants him to answer for why Boatner’s statements were never turned over to the defense.
Unwilling to aid their opponents, the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office is refusing to help bring Kaufman down from Virginia to answer that question in Court. Smith’s retrial, which was supposed to go forward on Monday, has again been delayed while his attorney tries to figure out how to get authorities to bring Kaufman to court, much to Judge Marullo’s chagrin:Smith is constitutionally entitled to put Kaufman on the witness stand, Marullo said. If he’s robbed of that right, it could spell a repeat of the case’s prior trips through the appeals courts. “If the state wants to try this case, it’s your ballgame,” Marullo told Freeman. “Practically, you will never try this case unless you, by good office, ask that this person be brought in.” Marullo scheduled a hearing for next week, warning prosecutors to work with the defense to get Kaufman into court.
The unwillingness of the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office to get to the bottom of its key witness’s contradictory statements is unnerving. More and more convictions out of Orleans Parish are disintegrating as prosecutorial misconduct is uncovered, including the most recent case of Milton Isaac. While many of these convictions were won under former District Attorney Harry Connick, Sr., the current District Attorney, Leon Cannizzaro, seems to be showing little interest in righting the wrongs of his predecessor.
UPDATE: Archie Kaufman’s conviction has been thrown out on account of the prosecutorial misconduct of former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s office. Learn more here. 09/17/2013