First Assistant Ned McGowan said, “I am proud of this team and their hard work to keep this case moving forward and being relentless in their pursuit of justice. This week’s jury verdict is proof that the path to justice is sometimes long. Nonetheless, the people of New Orleans can rest assured that DA’s Office will go down that path every day, regardless of how long it is, to increase safety and deliver justice in New Orleans.”
ADA Andre Gaudin said, “Despite the challenges of this case, we moved forward because based on the evidence and information concerning the case, we were absolutely committed to securing justice for this family. With the unanimous guilty verdict by the jury, we are glad to make good on our promise to this family to secure justice for them and their loved one who was sadly taken from them.”
From the moment the Williams Administration inherited the case, this administration made a commitment to the family to do everything within the office’s power to ensure accountability and secure justice for Mr. Brister. With all the challenges in this case, Mr. Brister’s family had real concerns about whether justice would be served. OPDA is proud and humbled to have been able to secure justice for this family.
Mr. Brister’s Sister Alicia Morgan said, “My brother was murdered in 2018 and since then, we have been fighting for justice. When people wanted to turn their backs on this case, DA Williams and this team kept going forward. No matter how hard it looked, this team fought with us. And, I am so thankful because the person responsible for his murder has finally been convicted. Thank you so much DA Williams, our Victim and Witness Advocate Alison Morgado and the attorneys involved for helping us through this case. Because of each of you, my family and I can now begin moving forward in healing.”
The trial took place in Section F of Criminal District Court; Judge Robin Pittman presided. The sentencing date is set for April 2022.
This conviction builds on the work of prosecutors to secure convictions in all cases tried in court since the resumption of jury trials.
- 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.
- 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.
- Chief Derbes and ADA Joe Zanetti secured the conviction of Harrison Bethley for the murder of his cousin, Darnell Thomas, in the 1800 block of Treasure Street in February 2020.
- Lastly, DA Williams, along with OPDA Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) Division Chief Mary Glass and ADA Naomi Jones, secured the conviction of defendant William McDonough for the rape of a victim in the 900 block of Poeyfarre Street in September 2016.
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.”