A prosecutor with Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office acknowledged Tuesday that it can’t withhold the names of witnesses to last summer’s Bourbon Street shooting unless it can prove to a judge that their safety is in danger.
But just when lawyers for accused shooter Trung Le might get those names remained in doubt after a hearing before a panel of the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal.
It marked the first time the 4th Circuit has heard oral arguments on a question that is likely to come up in numerous criminal cases in which prosecutors seek to keep secret the names of witnesses.
The legal issue has delayed a trial for Le, 21, the Belle Chasse man who is accused of manslaughter and attempted second-degree murder in the early morning shooting spree on June 29.
The shooting between Le and another, still unidentified man claimed the life of a young Hammond woman, Brittany Thomas, while injuring nine others. It touched off public anger over French Quarter violence and a police manpower shortage that continues months later.
Le’s attorney, Martin Regan, claims his client acted heroically in firing on a man who had been walking down Bourbon Street, “mean-mugging” revelers before raising his gun at Le’s group in the 700 block of Bourbon.
There is no evidence that Le shot anyone other than, possibly, the other shooter.
The manslaughter count against Le is for Thomas’ killing, under the theory that he incited the shots that struck her. That act, prosecutors say, also warranted the attempted murder count.
At issue Tuesday was whether, or when, a law that took effect in 2014 requires Cannizzaro’s office to prove to Criminal District Court Judge Byron Williams that revealing the names of witnesses in the case would jeopardize their safety.
Regan has complained that the police report he received from prosecutors blacked out the names of many witnesses in the case, keeping him from questioning them before the trial.
Ad hoc Judge Calvin Johnson, who was presiding over the case before Williams’ election to the bench last fall, punted on the issue, leaving it to a panel of 4th Circuit Judges Paul Bonin, Sandra Cabrina Jenkins and Max Tobias.
Assistant District Attorney Kyle Daly acknowledged Tuesday that the law requires prosecutors to prove their case for withholding witnesses’ names “at some point.”
Regan took that statement as a partial victory, and he urged the court to apply the law to all known witnesses, not just those whom prosecutors plan to call to testify.
Regan has filed a motion for a speedy trial in the case, which raised an eyebrow from Bonin.
“You’re arguing for a speedy trial, and on the other side you’re arguing, ‘I’m not ready to go. I can’t be ready to go,’ ” the judge said.
Regan responded, “The only reason we haven’t gone to trial is because this hasn’t been turned over. We do need a speedy trial. He can’t make the bond.”
Le remains in Orleans Parish Prison in lieu of $250,000 bail. He has since picked up a new charge for allegedly punching a fellow inmate.
The three judges did not say when they would rule.
In the meantime, Regan said, he’s conducting a parallel investigation with police to try to find the second shooter.
“They haven’t found him. We haven’t found him,” he said.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.