Attorneys for a man accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend and two of her children in a barrage of gunfire in their Gentilly garage last fall are attempting to subpoena video footage from a television documentary show about New Orleans police detectives as part of their client’s defense.
Three applications for subpoenas were filed late last week by public defenders representing Shawn Peterson, 41, who was indicted on three counts of first-degree murder in the September killings of Christine George, 39; Leonard George, 18; and Trisa George, 20. Leonard George was Peterson’s son.
Peterson’s lawyers are seeking “materials as they relate to Episode No. 265 of ‘The First 48,’ ” according to the subpoena applications. Criminal District Court Judge Laurie White has yet to rule on whether she will issue the subpoenas.
“The First 48” is a show aired on A&E about homicide investigations in police departments across the country. It is one of the highest-rated documentary shows on TV.
One of the subpoena applications is directed toward Kirkstall Road Enterprises, which produces the show. The others are directed toward three New Orleans residents, who appear to be either video producers or camera operators for the series.
The episode in question, titled “Heartless,” chronicles the efforts of NOPD detective Darrell Doucette and a team of investigators to solve the triple murder.
Within hours of the slayings, detectives had focused their investigation on Peterson, primarily based on an interview with one of Christine George’s other sons, who told police Peterson had often been violent toward her.
Peterson had a lengthy criminal record and had previously served 10 years for attempted murder of a former girlfriend.
In an interview conducted the day after the crime, Peterson told officers that he’d never shoot his own family and claimed he was heartbroken by the crime.
“I ain’t gonna kill my own son,” he said. “I ain’t cold-blooded.”
Peterson said his murdered son, Leonard, was “robbing for weed.” He said Leonard had told him that someone had pulled a gun on him earlier in the week.
According to the show, investigators were split early on between whether they thought Peterson or somebody out to hurt Leonard George was responsible for the murders.
However, once Peterson’s timeline and alibi began to crumble, detectives focused on him.
As detectives pointed to inconsistencies in his statements, Peterson, who is 6-foot-4 and over 300 pounds, vacillated between sobbing and rage.
At one point in the episode, he kicked a chair and then slammed his head against a wall.
Detectives eventually used a combination of witness statements, video surveillance and cellphone records to secure an arrest warrant for Peterson a week after the murders.
The subpoena applications specifically ask for four things: any footage in which a witness named Dewitt George fails to make an identification, any footage displaying law enforcement bias “in favor of making an arrest,” all footage of the crime scene investigation and “all footage between law enforcement and Shawn Peterson.”
A message left for Kirkstall Road representatives Tuesday was not returned. According to past media reports, John Kim, the show’s executive producer, has stated that the show’s video footage is protected by journalistic privilege and the show fights all subpoena requests in court.
The show has had a number of legal flaps over the years, including one resulting from a 2010 show that filmed a Detroit homicide investigation.
During a raid on a suspect’s home, 7-year-old Aiyana Jones was killed by a police officer’s bullet. The officer, who was the focus of the show, was later indicted for manslaughter.
In a lawsuit filed against A&E and Kirkstall Road, the girl’s family alleged that the raid was conducted in a way to provide further drama for the show.
Allison Howard, a producer of the show, was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to prosecutors about copying footage of the raid for a third party. She pleaded guilty to one charge of obstruction of justice in 2013 and was sentenced to probation and community service.
A July trial for the officer, during which the A&E video was shown, resulted in a hung jury.
The show signed another one-year contract with the New Orleans Police Department in April.