Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro gave a press conference on August 19 announcing his re-election campaign. According to John Simerman of the New Orleans Advocate, Cannizzaro claimed that his office has improved integrity and fairness in the criminal justice system and announced a new Conviction Integrity Unit, of the sort that has been popping up around the country, in conjunction with the Innocence Project of New Orleans. Cannizzaro indicated that he had moved his office beyond the era of prosecutorial misconduct in Orleans Parish that has plagued his years in office.
Cannizzaro made these assertions despite the fact that the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office continues to defend woefully unreliable convictions from the era of his predecessor, Harry Connick, Sr.
In the case of Rogers Lacaze, Cannizzaro continues to argue that Lacaze’s conviction and death sentence should hold despite clear evidence that the state withheld exculpatory information in the case. Indeed, Cannizzaro’s office has argued, “It is not the State’s burden to restore confidence in the outcome of Mr. Lacaze’s trial,” (see pg. 33 of closing argument in post-conviction hearing), even though prosecutors withheld a wealth of statements, documents, and information favorable to the defense, denying Mr. Lacaze a fair trial.
At the time of the crime, Mr. Lacaze had no criminal record, and no motive. No forensic evidence of any kind ties Rogers Lacaze to the scene. Cannizzaro’s office defends the conviction and death sentence of the 18 year old Lacaze, even though:
- Prosecutors suppressed statements from a key witness at trial that suggested she did not see who the perpetrator was even though she later gave a description that matched Lacaze at trial.
- Prosecutors suppressed police reports that pointed to Lacaze’s co-defendant’s brother, not Rogers Lacaze, as the real perpetrator. Indeed, the DA’s office continues to defend the conviction and death sentence of Roger Lacaze even where this alternate suspect was heard bragging about killing a police officer to two individuals after the offense and was arrested with the likely murder weapon.
- Judge Frank Marullo presided over Mr. Lacaze’s case without ever revealing that he was under investigation for having turned over the likely murder weapon to Lacaze’s co-defendant – and held Rogers’ defense counsel in contempt sentencing him to six months in prison when he spoke about the need to investigate corruption in the NOPD.
- A juror who served at trial did not reveal that she was working as a dispatcher for the NOPD when the officer-down call came about the shooting of the victim, or that she attended the victim’s funeral.
Lacaze is not the only troublesome case from the Connick era that Cannizzaro continues to defend.
In the federal Fifth Circuit in the case of Milton Isaac, Cannizzaro is appealing a federal judge’s finding of prosecutorial misconduct violations on procedural grounds. Judge Ginger Berrigan ruled that Isaac is entitled to a new trial because he demonstrated, “that favorable, material evidence was knowingly withheld by the prosecution. That evidence included that the prosecution suborned perjury from two witnesses.” (See our previous post about the case here.)
As in Lacaze, instead of conceding that the trial was fundamentally unfair and granting the defendant a new trial, Cannizzaro’s office has employed hyper-technical claims that federal courts have to defer to some state courts but not others in order to justify maintaining a conviction based upon conduct that was a hallmark of the Connick era.
Finally, when Cannizzaro’s office decided to defend Connick’s Brady violations in the case of Juan Smith at the country’s highest court, it “pretty much had the U.S. Supreme Court in stitches,” according to one Louisiana columnist.
Cannizzaro claims it’s a new era, but how can this be if he continues to deny the mistakes of the past? If words mean anything, you can’t have a conviction integrity unit and then defend Connick’s blatant lack of integrity in these cases. If Cannizzaro’s office can’t win at a retrial in a fair fight, he shouldn’t be defending these sorts of convictions.