This conviction builds off of last week’s three convictions secured in court
NEW ORLEANS – Yesterday, the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office (OPDA) secured a guilty verdict in a case involving a murder. OPDA Trials Division Chief Matthew Derbes and Assistant District Attorney (ADA) Joseph Zanetti secured the conviction of defendant Harrison Bethley for the murder of his cousin, Darnell Thomas, in the 1800 block of Treasure Street in February 2020. Bethley was found unanimously guilty of Manslaughter and Obstruction of Justice.
OPDA Trials Chief Matthew Derbes said, “Not only did we secure a conviction yesterday, but we secured justice for the victim and his family. I am thankful for the hard work of ADA Joe Zanetti, Victim Witness Coordinator Jasmine Hilyer, NOPD Homicide Detective Michael Poluikis and NOPD Crime Lab Officer Kenneth Leary for their hard work. Across agencies and with every case, we are moving the needle toward justice and are that much closer to increasing safety in our city.”
The trial took place in Section G of Criminal District Court; Judge Nandi Campbell presided. The sentencing date is set for May 2022.
The conviction secured yesterday builds on the work of prosecutors to secure guilty verdicts on all charges in all cases, including three murder cases, presented in court last week.
DA Williams, along with OPDA Trials Division Chief Matthew Derbes, secured the conviction of defendant Samuel Hunter for the Second Degree Murder of Anthony Bridges in the 1700 block of Monroe Street on Christmas Day 2020. ADAs Liz Strauss and Adele Krieger secured the conviction of Demeccio Caston for the Second Degree Murder of Patrick Lamar in New Orleans East in August 2019. Lastly, ADAs Samantha Stagias and Carmen Gealogo secured the conviction of Trae Williams for the manslaughter of his uncle Eddie Salvant III in Algiers in April 2014.
UNPRECEDENTED REALITIES AS JURY TRIALS RESUME
After a COVID-induced hiatus, jury trials resumed in New Orleans. While OPDA prosecutors are ready to get back to court, the office is faced with some unprecedented realities. This includes an unprecedented case backlog with 150 cases scheduled for trial in March 2022 alone; this is compared to only 48 jury trials that took place in all of 2019. Additionally, this includes an unprecedented DNA backlog with the State; the DNA backlog across Louisiana includes over 2,000 cases. OPDA is waiting on key evidence in a number of cases. Additionally, OPDA is tackling some of the most difficult cases inherited including retrying 60 reversals based on Ramos v. Louisiana, cases where the office was unable to procure unanimous jury verdicts when they were originally tried years ago.
As the caseload increases, OPDA is in need of additional staff, funding and resources. District Attorney Williams continues to double down on his request to the New Orleans City Council and Mayor LaToya Cantrell to fund our requests for additional lawyers, more DNA testing analysts, and Cold Case funding to improve OPDA’s capacity and help prosecutors build stronger cases. The City of New Orleans has millions of dollars sitting in City coffers from the federal government that are earmarked for this exact need that are not being spent. OPDA needs immediate action to hire more people to handle this increased workload.
“We are prosecutors. Trying cases in front of a jury is what we do, so we are excited to back to court. However, we are faced with some of the most unprecedented challenges this office has ever seen. From an increased case load to a large DNA backlog, our office needs support and resources from City leadership,” said District Attorney Williams. “These times are absolutely the most challenging we’ve faced in recent history, but we are holding those who commit violent offenses accountable and securing justice for the victims and families. This office will be steadfast in restoring trust in our criminal legal system by securing convictions in some of the most difficult cases as well as addressing decades of indifference to the concerns of community.”