New Orleans Criminal Lawyer Murder Attorney
The Louisiana Supreme Court on Tuesday tossed two 2010 murder convictions from Orleans Parish, blaming mistakes Criminal District Court judges made in the opening hours of trial, as attorneys picked 12 people to sit on the juries.
Billy Lewis, now 47, was convicted in March 2010 of gunning down an 11-year-old girl and a 16-year-old boy eight years earlier, in 2002.
Three months later, in June 2010, a jury found Jeremy “Bambi” Patterson guilty of chasing down a 28-year-old man in 2008 and shooting him dead on a Desire street corner. Both men were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
But the Louisiana Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned both convictions and sentences, sending the cases back to Tulane and Broad to be tried anew.
The high court ruled on Tuesday that the judges that presided over their trials — Judge Robin Pittman in Lewis’ case and Judge Frank Marullo for Patterson — made nearly identical mistakes during the jury selection process. Both judges denied defense attorneys’ attempts to strike a juror from the pool.
The Supreme Court described the judges’ denial as a clear violation of the law, and one that would have changed the makeup of the jury and, possibly, the outcome of the trial.
When seating a jury, attorneys for both the prosecution and the defense are granted 12 strikes, allowing them to remove those they predict might be unsympathetic to their case.
In both cases, the defense attorneys had not exhausted all of their 12 strikes as jury selection came to a close. In both cases, before the juries were sworn in, defense attorneys told the judges that they wished to go back and remove a juror already seated.
But the judges rejected the requests. Marullo told Patterson’s attorney John Thomas that he has no legal right to “backstrike,” the term for an attorney removing a juror he had previously accepted. Pittman, too, told Lewis’ attorneys Donald Sauviac and Patrick McGinity that she was not required by law to allow it.
But the right to do so is expressly allowed under Louisiana law, the Supreme Court noted in its Tuesday opinions overturning the two convictions. The Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure grants either side the right to remove a juror — even ones already seated — until all 12 strikes have been exhausted and the jury has been sworn in.
In both cases, the trials proceeded after the strikes were denied, and both men were found guilty by split juries. Patterson’s jury decided 10-2 to convict him of second-degree murder. Lewis was charged with two counts of the same crime. His jury split 10-2 on one count and 11-1 on the second.
Louisiana and Oregon are the only two states that do not require a unanimous verdict to convict.
Whether the judges made the correct decisions in denying the strikes was not in debate. The high court wrote Tuesday that they were in clear violation of Louisiana law.
The question then became whether the erroneous rulings were likely to have changed the outcome of the trials.
The lack of a unanimous decision, the court wrote in both cases, was an indication that the jury did not find the evidence against the men to be overwhelming. One juror who voted differently would have changed the outcome altogether, and could have had an immeasurable effect on the secret jury deliberations, potentially swaying others to acquit.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled in Patterson’s favor and reversed the district court’s decision last year. The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld that decision.
But the same appeals court had ruled against Lewis, finding that the judge erred, but the error would not have changed the verdict.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday disagreed.
“We cannot conclude with certainty that the guilty verdicts rendered in this case were surely unattributable to the district court’s error in prohibiting a back strike…” the court wrote, sending the case back for a new trial.
Both cases hinged not on physical evidence, but on eyewitness testimony and dying declarations.
In Billy Lewis’ case, the dying 16-year-old boy reportedly uttered the last words “Billy shot me.” He was killed in his home, along with his 11-year-old niece. Another child was shot multiple times and survived.
Prosecutors alleged that Lewis, then 27, gunned them all down with an AK-47 to get revenge over a dispute involving his 15-year-old girlfriend.
Local boys, including 16-year-old Travis Webb, had started hassling the girl about dating a man nearly twice her age. Lewis allegedly told the girl that Webb “needs to be dealt with.”
Days later, he allegedly knocked on the door of his home on Intrepid Street. Webb’s 12-year-old niece, Tierra, answered the door and went to fetch her uncle.
As he approached, Lewis allegedly opened fire with the assault rifle. Webb’s other niece, 11-year-old Daveion Jones was hit first, struck in the head and killed almost instantly. Tierra was hit in the cheek, the head, and through her hand, but survived.
Webb, struck in the stomach, was rushed to the hospital, where he allegedly told a friend and two police detectives that Lewis shot him.
The jury voted, 11-1, to convict him for the boy’s murder, and 10-2 to convict him for the girl’s.
In Patterson’s trial, neighbors testified that on July 20, 2008, they watched from the corner of Humanity and Clouet streets as Patterson chased 28-year-old Kerry Emery, shooting him as they ran along the street. Emery fell, Patterson’s gun jammed and Emery was momentarily able to get away, the woman testified at trial. He was shot again and fell again. A second gunman appeared and shot Emery as he lay on the ground.
Emery was shot four times, but did not die instantly.
“Bambi and them shot me,” he reportedly said to a neighbor as he lay dying on the sidewalk.
Ten members of the jury chose to convict him, while two voted to acquit.
While both cases will return to court for new trial, dates have not been set in either.
Attorney Harold E. Weiser of the Weiser Law Firm