An appeals court has overturned an Orleans Parish judge’s unusual decision to dismiss an indictment against an alleged murderer after she found no evidence it was signed in open court.
The decision to reinstate the Aug. 29, 2013, indictment against Isaac Jones prompted Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro to level some criticism at Criminal District Court Judge Laurie White for her action.
The grand jury had handed up a bill charging Jones with two counts of second-degree murder in the killings of Orlando Rickmon, 26, and Desmond Bell, 22, who died in a hail of gunfire in Mid-City in April 2013. Jones also was accused of two counts of attempted murder in the indictment.
However, his attorney, Kevin Boshea, noted that a signature line on the back of the indictment, where a minute clerk is supposed to note that the indictment was returned in open court, was left unsigned. That was legally enough reason to toss out the indictment, Boshea argued, and White agreed.
Under state law, indictments must be returned in open court and signed by the jury foreman.
According to Cannizzaro’s office, however, prosecutors “provided a certified minute entry from August 29 that indicated that the indictment was, in fact, returned in open court.”
The court in question, Section G of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, is run by Judge Julian Parker, who had a penchant for closing his courtroom to the public while some indictments were being returned last year, when it was his turn to oversee state grand juries in a six-month rotation.
Parker presided over a regular state grand jury and one that reviewed gang racketeering cases that Cannizzaro’s office was pursuing. It is unclear whether he kept the public out on Aug. 29.
At a hearing, White quibbled with prosecutors over the meaning of “open court” before ruling to quash the indictment.
A prosecutor said it meant “literally coming into court and making the return on the record,” according to the appeals court panel.
“Can any of you tell me whether this judge had open court for return of indictments?” White asked. “Because I’m told he did not.”
In an eight-page ruling, however, Judges Joy Cossich Lobrano, Dennis Bagneris and Paul Bonin of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal unanimously agreed that Jones failed to prove the indictment against him was not filed in open court.
“It is unfortunate that in certain sections of court my assistant district attorneys must litigate cases before judges who will dismiss a murder case not upon the existence of a technical defect but based merely upon their unproven allegation of such a defect,” Cannizzaro said about White in a statement after Wednesday’s ruling.
White, who has frequently sparred with Cannizzaro, was presiding over a murder trial this week and could not be reached for comment.
Boshea did not return a message.