A second murder conviction won against Juan Smith by the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office is coming under scrutiny after a first murder conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court of the United States last year due to prosecutorial misconduct. New evidence brought to light during an ongoing evidentiary hearing this week suggests that the Orleans DA’s office may have also failed to disclose exculpatory information in the second murder case against Smith as well.
Smith, whose conviction for a quintuple murder was used by the Orleans DA’s office to secure a death sentence against him for a second set of killings, had his death sentence vacated in January, 2013 following an 8-1 ruling from the Supreme Court which found that the State had suppressed Brady material in the case in the form of conflicting statements made by the sole eyewitness.
When the Supreme Court overturned that murder conviction, an Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judge ruled that the death sentence from the second trial could not stand, since about 85% of the evidence presented in the penalty phase of the death penalty trial related to the since-overturned murder conviction.
The same judge ruled that Smith’s conviction in the second murder case was nonetheless fair, and Smith continues to serve a life sentence for that second set of killings. However, on appeal, questions are being raised about the constitutionality of this conviction in light of testimony from police officers that suggests defense attorneys may not have received all available information pertaining to an alternate suspect in the case.
John Simerman for The Advocate explains:
Amid the rampant bloodshed, on Feb. 4, 1995, New Orleans Saints player Bennie Thompson’s ex-wife, Tangie, their 3-year-old son, Devyn, and her boyfriend Andre White were murdered at their house on Morrison Road.
Bennie Thompson had allegedly threatened Tangie Thompson’s life and tangled with White — a claim the NFL player denied. His 9 mm handgun, the same kind of weapon used in the killings, never turned up. Word was, Thompson liked to fire off rounds in his yard with his police officer friends. When detectives started to peg him for the murders, they served at least one search warrant on an officer’s locker and suspected other cops might be trying to shield the player, former homicide detective David Morales testified Tuesday.
“I thought possibly the police officer had the weapon,” Morales said. “It was very distasteful, but I had to investigate, advise police officers of their rights during this investigation. I believed that Bennie Thompson was the killer at that time.”
Whether detectives truly cleared Thompson of the murders, and just how much evidence against Thompson was turned over to defense attorneys, became a focus Tuesday of an ongoing hearing to decide whether Juan Smith got a bum trial when a jury convicted him of the murders in early 2006 and sent him to death row.
The killing onslaught back then, and whether harried police brushed off evidence pointing to the former Saints player, form the backdrop for Smith’s claims that he got railroaded by a District Attorney’s Office with a history of overturned convictions…
Smith’s attorneys say claims that Bennie Thompson threatened both Tangie Thompson and Andre White were among the evidence illegally withheld by prosecutors.
The evidentiary hearing is expected to continue through Thursday of this week.