The Louisiana Supreme Court has reinstated the conviction of a man who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for dragging a girl into a Mid-City alley and raping her in 2001.
In a ruling Friday, the court overturned an appeals court’s decision in June tossing out a jury’s guilty verdict last year against 34-year-old Randolph Armstead, who faced a charge of felony carnal knowledge of a juvenile.
The appeals court panel, in a 2-1 ruling, found that Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Darryl Derbigny had blundered by granting a motion from Armstead’s attorney to dismiss the indictment, then changing his mind and moving ahead with a one-day trial after prosecutors said they would appeal the ruling.
According to the appeals court majority, Derbigny had lost his authority over the case once District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office said it would appeal his decision.
But in reinstating Armstead’s conviction and sentence, the Supreme Court sided with dissenting 4th Circuit Court Judge James McKay III, who had argued that because Armstead’s motion to quash the indictment was made orally, it didn’t count legally.
The case against Armstead relied on DNA evidence after the victim refused to cooperate with prosecutors.
The woman, whom The New Orleans Advocate is not naming, was 16 when she told police in 2001 that she had left a party and been approached by two men she knew from Israel Augustine Middle School. They walked with her, then pushed her into an alley in the 2600 block of Iberville Street and raped her, she said.
She underwent a rape examination, but the evidence was not tested until years later, along with hundreds of other rape exam kits that had languished in the Police Department’s evidence room.
A match turned up for Armstead, who was booked in 2008, only to have the supposed victim tell police she didn’t want to press charges.
Faced with a reluctant witness, prosecutors amended the charges on the day of the scheduled trial, dropping counts of aggravated rape and kidnapping and, instead, pressing the carnal knowledge count.
Roshell Jones, Armstead’s attorney, argued that the statute of limitations had passed on the new charge. Derbigny agreed, at first.
Jones said Cannizzaro’s office switched the charge “out of the blue” on the day of trial, prompting her oral motion to quash the indictment. She said she planned to put her motion in writing, and she did so soon afterward.
Derbigny apparently found that the charge against Armstead fell within a broader statute of limitations, and he allowed the trial to proceed in front of a six-member jury.
At a sentencing hearing, the victim testified that Armstead never had sex with her. The woman, by then 28, claimed prosecutors had threatened to charge her when she denied that Armstead ever raped her.
At one point, she told prosecutors that Armstead later apologized to her for what he had done, though she later denied that.
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