Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro met Thursday with survivors of three victims of the most notorious massacre in New Orleans in a generation, filling them in on plans to appeal a judge’s ruling last month granting a new trial for death row inmate Rogers Lacaze.
In a 128-page ruling, retired Judge Michael Kirby found “a structural error” in Lacaze’s 1995 trial, at which a jury convicted him on three counts of first-degree murder.
One of the jurors, David Settle, was a commissioned law enforcement officer for the Louisiana State Police at a time when they were legally barred from jury service. Settle hid this fact from the court, Kirby found.
Kirby also wrote that Willie Turk, Lacaze’s trial attorney, “did not come close to the competent, effective representation Mr. Lacaze was entitled to” in the penalty phase, when the jury sentenced Lacaze to death. Turk is now dead.
Another jury soon handed the same death sentence to Antoinette Frank, the former New Orleans police officer who remains on death row for the killing of her partner, Officer Ronnie Williams II, 25, and siblings Cuong Vu, 17, and Ha Vu, 24, inside the Kim Anh restaurant in New Orleans East.
Cannizzaro’s office has until late this month to appeal Kirby’s ruling on Lacaze to the Louisiana Supreme Court. Spokesman Christopher Bowman said that’s just what the office will do.
Cannizzaro met for about an hour with Chau Vu, the sister who hid in a restaurant cooler when gunfire erupted inside the restaurant, as well as Williams’ father, Ron Williams, brother Shawn Williams and wife, Mary.
Also present was Glen Woods, who prosecuted the separate cases against Lacaze and Frank. Woods said he was there to support the families.
Neither Bowman nor Williams’ family would discuss details of the meeting. Bowman also declined to talk about the pending appeal.
“He tried to make sure we were involved in the process and knew what was going on,” Ron Williams said of the district attorney. “We want to make sure everybody remembers my son Ronnie and the contributions he made.”
“We’re happy they’re taking proactive steps to move forward,” Shawn Williams added after the meeting.
Kirby dismissed many other claims made by Lacaze’s attorneys, including allegations of police misconduct and a claim that authorities ignored evidence that Frank’s brother, Adam Frank, was the second shooter, not Lacaze, who is now 38. Instead, Kirby hung his order for a new trial on the juror issue. He declined to release Lacaze pending an appeal.
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