In a highly unusual legal action, the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office has taken out a new arrest warrant for a man found not guilty of federal murder charges in a drug-related killing that happened shortly before Hurricane Katrina.
Recently filed court documents show 37-year-old Ryan J. Veazie is wanted in New Orleans on one count of second-degree murder in the 2005 fatal shooting of Paul Miller Jr. — a killing for which Veazie was tried and acquitted in 2008 in U.S. District Court.
Veazie’s whereabouts were unclear Thursday.
The state case is a “rare occurrence” but does not amount to double jeopardy under what is known as the dual-sovereignty doctrine, said Dane Ciolino, a Loyola University law professor. That legal principle holds that a criminal defendant may commit distinct offenses in the same act by violating the “peace and dignity” of both a state and the United States.
“It’s certainly unusual but not unheard of,” Ciolino said. It is more common, he added, for the federal government to try a defendant already acquitted in state court rather than the other way around.
Four days before Katrina made landfall, a federal grand jury in New Orleans indicted Veazie, already a convicted felon, and another man, Jerry Cutno, on murder and drug trafficking charges. The men were tried together in 2008 by separate juries, an exceedingly rare arrangement that resulted in a split verdict.
The panel tasked with determining Cutno’s fate convicted him of “use of a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking offense causing death” and conspiring with Veazie to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute it. Veazie’s jury, meanwhile, acquitted him of both of those counts and another weapons charge.
Miller, 23, was fatally shot at an apartment in Algiers on June 29, 2005. Federal prosecutors said the killing stemmed from 8 ounces of cocaine Miller had stashed at the apartment that Veazie and Cutno planned to steal.
Both men were broke at the time, hustling DVDs in a barbershop and counterfeiting money, authorities said. Stealing a fifth of a kilogram of cocaine was to be a “huge payday,” Assistant U.S. Attorney George Kennedy told jurors in 2008, according to transcripts of the trial.
“They were going to handcuff (Miller), rob him and torture him,” prosecutor Richard Rose said of the alleged plot. “They didn’t get that far.”
The government’s case hinged largely upon the testimony of Ashley Williams, a woman who had been involved with both Miller and Veazie and in whose apartment Miller had stashed the cocaine. Cutno also was alleged to have made a jailhouse confession to the killing.
“You couldn’t have asked for a better case,” said Ron Ruiz Jr., the former New Orleans Police Department detective who investigated the case. “It’s what we would call a dog tied to a tree.”
Williams described for jurors an ambush in which Cutno and Veazie, holed up with handguns in Williams’ apartment, asked her to telephone Miller and invite him to “come get his (stuff).” Miller, after walking inside, was assaulted by Cutno and Veazie, Williams testified.
“I was standing at the door when I first heard the noise, the guns,” Williams told jurors. “And when they both were coming out shooting, I ran toward the kitchen area and balled up in a knot on the floor.”
Cutno, sweating and covered in blood, was taken into custody shortly after the shooting after police followed a blood and footprint trail away from the Shadowbrook Apartments. He had a firearm in his possession. Veazie, who previously had been convicted of armed robbery in New Orleans in 1996, was later arrested in Georgia.
Veazie’s defense attorney, Dwight Doskey, attacked Williams’ account as shifting and unreliable, telling jurors that she concocted a convenient story to avoid facing murder charges herself. He pointed to a 911 call she placed that roundly contradicted her trial testimony.
“Are you going to trust a blind man who tells you about what he saw earlier today?” Doskey asked jurors in his closing argument. “Are you going to trust a deaf man about what he heard earlier today?”
Doskey did not return calls Thursday seeking comment on the new warrant.
It’s unclear whether any new evidence has emerged since the federal trial. The District Attorney’s Office has a policy of not commenting on open cases.
In an application for the new arrest warrant, Jim O’Hern, an investigator for the District Attorney’s Office, wrote that a witness saw a man fleeing the scene of the shooting whose description “closely matched” Veazie. Anonymous Crimestoppers tips implicated Veazie as well, according to the warrant, signed March 9 by Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell.
O’Hern also cited forensic testing in which blood found at the crime scene was found to be consistent with Veazie’s DNA “to a probability of 1 in 22 quintillion U.S. African-Americans.”
Miller’s mother, Kathy Miller, said she was “very excited” about the new warrant being issued. A state prosecution, she said, promised to offer a measure of closure for her family, which continues to suffer a decade after the fatal shooting.
Kathy Miller was left to serve as both a mother and grandmother to her son’s daughter, who was 4 years old at the time of the killing.
Veazie’s acquittal, she said, was devastating.
“I still feel like my heart is empty,” she said. “He was the mastermind of everything.”
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.