All three murder trials end in guilty verdict
NEW ORLEANS – This week, District Attorney Jason Williams personally led his prosecutors into court and secured guilty verdicts in all three murder cases that went to trial.
“All of these men received fair trials, and after the work of my Assistant District Attorneys in court, a jury of their peers found them all guilty as charged on each and every count,” said District Attorney Williams. “Reform, fairness, justice and safety all go hand in hand. I want to be clear on what reform truly means. Reform means focusing on the worst offenders so that we can safely walk in our neighborhoods. And that is what my entire team has been working on since I was sworn into office a year ago.”
In the first case, DA Williams went to court along with Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office (OPDA) Trials Division Chief Matthew Derbes and 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. Relatedly, the defendant was charged with Obstruction of Justice and Felon in Possession of a Firearm. After a multi-day trial in Criminal District Court, the jury found the defendant guilty of all charges.
“The truth is Anthony Bridges lost his life to senseless violence. The defendant’s decisions to not only shoot Mr. Bridges, but continue to unload his gun after the victim was on the ground, is proof of his intention to end his life on that Christmas morning,“ said District Attorney Williams. “Since taking office just over a year ago, I have been clear that we are committed to reforming the criminal legal system so that we can be laser-focused on combatting violent crime and getting those who wish to wreak havoc on our communities off the streets. Our effort and results in court this week is further proof of that commitment coming to reality. We are humbled to have helped to secure justice for the Bridges Family.”
The defendant, Hunter, murdered Bridges after shooting him numerous times; 19 bullet shell casings were found on the scene. Additionally, Hunter illegally purchased the gun as a convicted felon and, in an effort to evade justice, threw the gun in Lake Pontchartrain as he fled to Baton Rouge.
OPDA Trials Chief Matthew Derbes said, “Defense counsel attempted to make an argument that the defendant acted in self-defense. However, it was clear through the evidence presented, as well as Hunter’s admission of standing over the victim and unloading his gun, that this was no matter of self-defense; Hunter made decisions that showed a clear intention of killing. This senseless violence cannot and will not be tolerated in our communities. We are glad to secure this conviction for the Bridges Family and the people of New Orleans.”
This trial took place in Section H of Criminal District Court; Judge Camille Buras presided. The sentencing date has been set for April 2022. The sentencing guideline for Second Degree Murder mandates life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Additionally, Assistant District Attorneys (ADA) 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. Relatedly, the defendant was found guilty of Obstruction of Justice and Felon in Possession of a Firearm charges.
The trial took place in Section B of Criminal District Court; Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier presided. The sentencing date is set for April 2022. The sentencing guideline for Second Degree Murder mandates life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Additionally, 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. After a mistrial in June 2017, Williams was brought to court on a Second Degree Murder charge, but was found guilty of Manslaughter by a nonunanimous jury in April 2018. In September 2020, the case was remanded back to Criminal District Court by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal. This week, ADAs Stagias and Gealogo tried the case and secured a conviction from a unanimous jury.
This case was retried as part of the 60 reversals OPDA must retry based on Ramos v. Louisiana, cases where OPDA was unable to secure unanimous jury verdicts when they were originally tried years ago.
The trial took place in Section D of Criminal District Court; Judge Kimya Holmes presided. The sentencing date is set for April 2022.
First Assistant Ned McGowan said, “I am proud of the hard work of these attorneys. This week, they showed incredible perseverance in securing these convictions. We are also thankful for the jurors’ service and we hope these verdicts will bring these families peace.”
At a press conference today, District Attorney Williams also thanked the jurors who showed up to fulfill their civic duty. While it is ultimately the responsibility of the courts to secure jurors, OPDA continues to appeal to the public to fulfill jury duty as OPDA can only move forward with trying the most violent crimes in court before a jury of citizens.
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.”