Trung Le, the alleged first shooter in a Bourbon Street gunfight last summer that killed a 21-year-old nursing student and injured nine others, will not go on trial this month as scheduled, and it’s unclear when he might.
A panel of the Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeal this week halted any trial for Le while it hears arguments on whether District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office must turn over its full list of witnesses to Le’s attorneys.
Le, 21, of Belle Chasse, faces manslaughter and attempted second-degree murder charges from an August indictment that followed his arrest and extradition from Mississippi shortly after the June 29 melee.
The manslaughter count is for the death of Brittany Thomas, of Hammond, who survived for 10 days before she was taken off life support. She died from a single gunshot wound to the head.
Prosecutors say they don’t believe Le fired the fatal shot from a .40-caliber handgun. Another man, whom police have yet to identify or arrest, killed Thomas, they believe. But prosecutors claim Le incited the shooting when he fired at the other gunman, an act that prosecutors say also warranted the charge of attempted murder.
It’s unclear whether any of the bullets fired by Le struck anyone. The indictment describes the second shooter only as “an unknown black male.”
Le’s attorney, Martin Regan, as well as friends who were with Le when the gunfire erupted in the 700 block of Bourbon, claim the second shooter had been walking up the street, “mean mugging” early morning revelers before turning his ire on the group including Le.
He then drew his gun and raised it up toward the group before Le fired, Le’s attorneys say, pointing to somewhat grainy police videos and friends who have portrayed Le as a hero for his actions.
Regan said he needs the witnesses’ names for Le’s defense, arguing that prosecutors, by blacking out those names in police reports they have turned over to him, are failing to abide by a year-old state law that requires them to show that witness safety is genuinely at risk if they seek to keep names secret.
Retired Criminal District Court Judge Calvin Johnson, sitting ad hoc in the case late last year, sided with Cannizzaro’s office.
But an appeals court panel made up of Judges Paul Bonin, Sandra Cabrina Jenkins and Max Tobias stayed the trial to hear the arguments from both sides. It will hear oral arguments March 31.
“It’s frustrating. We expected to be on trial on Feb. 23,” Regan said. “The positive side is, we’re hopeful the Court of Appeal will take a good look at this new law and apply the law fairly.”
Christopher Bowman, a spokesman for Cannizzaro’s office, declined to comment on the case.
The gunfire that erupted about 2:45 a.m. on the city’s most famous party street came just days before tens of thousands of visitors descended on New Orleans for the Essence Festival.
The violence prompted a cry from Mayor Mitch Landrieu for the state to deliver a large contingent of state troopers to help keep the city safe amid a steep NOPD manpower shortfall.
More broadly, it has provoked a range of proposed initiatives, public and private, to beef up the uniformed law enforcement presence in the French Quarter.
A judge last year reduced Le’s bail to $250,000, but he remains inOrleans Parish Prison, where he has since picked up a battery count for allegedly punching a fellow inmate.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.