Judge Overturns Part of Danziger Bridge Verdict

October 21, 2011

While upholding the majority of the verdict, a federal judge yesterday threw out three counts against the five New Orleans police officers convicted in the Danziger Bridge case. Six civilians were shot by police on the bridge in the days after Hurricane Katrina; two of them died and four were severely wounded.

Judge Kurt Engelhardt, who presided over the trial, said that prosecutors failed to prove that Sgt. Kenneth Bowen stomped on Ronald Madison, a 40-year old mentally disabled man, as he lay dying from his wounds. Former Officer Ronald Hunter, who earlier this month was sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in the cover-up, was the only witness to testify he saw Bowen stomp on Madison. According to the Times-Picayune:

Hunter’s credibility was so weak, in Engelhardt’s view, that he asked to see the handwritten notes of FBI Special Agent William Bezak, who had debriefed him. After reviewing Bezak’s notes and other court documents, the judge wrote, “the Court could only conclude that either (a) Special Agent Bezak is the worst note-taker in the history of the FBI; or (b) Hunter’s approach to the truth was so cavalier and insouciant that his word … should be accepted only with special care, utmost caution/doubt, and requisite corroboration.”

The judge also said that there was insufficient evidence that Bowen and three other officers conspired to falsely prosecute Jose Holmes Jr., who survived the shooting, on charges that he shot at police. Holmes “was never prosecuted, arrested or even detained,” the judge wrote.

U.S. District Attorney Jim Letten said his office is weighing an appeal. “The majority of the counts and the serious counts are intact, but all the counts are important to us,” he told the Associated Press.

Sentencing for the five officers is set for Dec. 14.

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