For the second time in two years, the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office has decided against prosecuting a person arrested in the 1992 beating death of a man in Glen Oaks.
In the latest incident, the arrested man told a deputy and a federal inmate he was at the crime scene but didn’t participate in the killing, District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Wednesday.
No physical evidence links 65-year-old Woodrow Harrell to the killing of Leonard Noriega, he said.
Harrell had been released from federal prison recently when he was arrested earlier this month on counts of first-degree murder and aggravated burglary in the death of Noriega, 44. Harrell was released April 23 from Parish Prison after Moore’s office decided against prosecuting him.
“We didn’t have enough evidence to hold him,” Moore said. “There’s just not enough for us to even go forward and present it to a grand jury.”
A second man, 54-year-old Edward J. Belin, was arrested in early 2013 on a count of principal to first-degree murder in Noriega’s death and spent six months in jail before posting bail. The District Attorney’s Office decided against prosecuting him, just as it did with Harrell.
Moore was asked if the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office consults with his office before making arrests.
“We can’t tell them who to arrest and who not to,” he said. “They have their own legal counsel. We can tell them what we think, but they have to independently make the decision.”
“Obviously, a judge signed a warrant,” he said in reference to the arrests in the Noriega case.
Moore said at this time there is not sufficient credible and admissible evidence to support charges against Harrell, despite the efforts of investigators.
Court records do not indicate that Harrell hired a lawyer after his arrest.
Belin’s fingerprints were found on an air conditioning vent that had apparently been pulled out during the ransacking of Noriega’s Skylark Avenue home at the time of the slaying, but Belin has said he was in Atlanta when Noriega was killed. Belin, who painted houses, said he must have painted Noriega’s house before he moved to Atlanta in 1990, although he couldn’t recall painting that specific house.
Noriega, 44, was tied up with electrical cord and white cloth and beaten to death. His body was found Dec. 9, 1992.
While he was in federal prison, Harrell told a deputy he was robbed at gunpoint of $40,000 cash and an expensive Rolex watch more than a year before Noriega was killed, and he suspected Noriega was behind the robbery, according to an East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office report.
Harrell told the deputy he asked a friend to rob Noriega, and the friend said he knew someone perfect for the job, the report states. Harrell asked the man not to harm Noriega, the report adds.
Harrell told the deputy he was there when Noriega was beaten and tortured but did not take part in those events. Harrell said he went back to the home several days later and found Noriega dead, the report says.
Harrell, according to the report, hoped to be given immunity from prosecution and possibly immunity from his federal parole for talking to the deputy. Harrell told the same story to another federal prisoner, the report states.
Moore urged anyone with information about Noriega’s killing to call the Sheriff’s Office or Crime Stoppers.
“Some would consider it old or cold, but it’s not closed,” he said of the case. “It’s still open. It was a brutal murder.”