An Orleans Parish judge has set an Aug. 5 trial date for two men accused of perjuring themselves in the case of Jerome Morgan, who won his freedom last week when prosecutors dropped a bid to retry him for a 1993 murder.
Hakim Shabazz, 39, and Kevin Johnson, 40, are accused of lying on the witness stand, either at Morgan’s 1994 murder trial — when they identified him as the one who shot 16-year-old Clarence Landry in a Gentilly motel ballroom — or when they recanted in 2013.
That’s when the two men testified that police had steered them to identify Morgan as the shooter. Citing the recantations, Criminal District Court Judge Darryl Derbigny overturned Morgan’s conviction and life sentence in early 2014 and later released him on bail pending a retrial.
However, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office last week dropped its attempt to retry Morgan. Cannizzaro cited a Louisiana Supreme Court decision last month that barred a jury from weighing transcripts of the earlier trial testimony of Shabazz and Johnson, unless the two men took the witness stand.
Shabazz and Johnson invoked their Fifth Amendment rights not to testify at a retrial for Morgan, fearing new perjury charges.
Cannizzaro acknowledged last week that authorities may never know for sure when Shabazz and Johnson lied, then or now. But the law requires prosecutors only to show the men offered conflicting statements on the witness stand.
It’s unclear what sentence Shabazz and Johnson could face if convicted of perjury. In a murder trial, perjury carries a minimum five-year sentence with a maximum of 40, but in other cases it carries a maximum five-year sentence, with no minimum.
The charges against Shabazz and Johnson have been on hold since January 2015, pending the outcome of Morgan’s case.
Criminal District Court Judge Benedict Willard set the trial date Tuesday. Willard also dismissed a motion filed earlier by Shabazz and Johnson to recuse Cannizzaro’s office from the case.