Attorneys for a man jailed for 23 years for a French Quarter kidnapping and rape on Wednesday asked the judge overseeing a potential retrial of the case to recuse herself because of her brief tenure as Orleans Parish district attorney.
Innocence Project New Orleans attorneys said the move to bar Criminal District Court Judge Keva Landrum-Johnson from overseeing Robert Jones’ case is nothing personal but reflects the fact that they intend to call her to testify about the actions of her employees when she was the top parish prosecutor from October 2007 to August 2008.
Landrum-Johnson served as DA following the resignation of former DA Eddie Jordan amid scandal. She remains the only woman ever to hold the post in Orleans Parish.
On Sept. 23, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office turned over a 1996 memo written by a prosecutor acknowledging that a key witness in the case against Jones had recanted a statement implicating Jones in a separate murder.
The connection between the two men became a key factor in Jones’ trial on charges of armed robbery, aggravated rape and aggravated kidnapping in the French Quarter incident, as the other man’s car had been used in that crime and others, and police also found him with some of the victim’s jewelry. Robert Jones’ attorneys claim the other man, Lester Jones — who is not related to Robert — was the real perpetrator.
An appeals court granted Robert Jones a new trial last year. Cannizzaro said in an interview last month that his office has not decided whether to retry the rape case.
Attorneys for Jones said in their motion Wednesday that Landrum-Johnson could be called to testify about why the 1996 memo was not turned over during her short time as district attorney.
“There is no evidence that the presiding judge in this court was personally aware of the recently disclosed memorandum, but … she was the person ultimately responsible for office policy (including the absence of policy) and for enforcement of any such policy,” Innocence Project lawyers Emily Maw and Richard Davis wrote in a motion to recuse Landrum-Johnson.
The judge has set an Oct. 20 hearing to consider the Innocence Project motion.
Had it been released earlier, Robert Jones’ attorneys contend, the memo would have contradicted prosecutors’ claims about a connection between the two men.
Instead, prosecutors pressed the connection, and a jury convicted Robert Jones in the April 1992 armed robbery that began on North Rampart Street and ended with a rape in a Desire housing complex building.
The 1996 memo from then-Assistant District Attorney Fred Menner, now a federal prosecutor, said that with Lester Jones’ recantation, there was no evidence against Robert Jones for a murder in which Lester Jones was convicted. Prosecutors nonetheless allowed Robert Jones to plead guilty to manslaughter in that murder, after his conviction on a rape that would land him behind bars with a mandatory life sentence.
His attorneys say the memo was exculpatory material in the rape case and also shows that prosecutors let Jones plead guilty to a crime for which they had no viable case.
Over the past several years, prosecutors with the DA’s Office scoffed at Lester Jones’ later testimony that he never knew Robert Jones and told prosecutors as much.
“What they effectively did was ridicule Robert’s claim,” Maw said.
An assistant district attorney did not immediately raise objections to the recusal motion in court Wednesday.