Harry Morel, who for 33 years was the top law enforcement official in St. Charles Parish, made his first appearance in federal court Monday afternoon to answer a charge of obstruction of justice.
As required by law, Morel, 73, entered a not-guilty plea at his arraignment, but his attorney, Ralph Capitelli, reiterated that the former district attorney intends to change his plea to guilty when he appears before U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt on April 20.
Morel, who was dressed in a dark suit and accompanied by his wife, was released on an unsecured bond of $50,000. He declined to speak to reporters.
His plea deal will bring to a close a long-running probe into allegations that Morel was giving lenient treatment to female offenders in exchange for sexual favors. But it’s unclear whether the full extent of his misconduct will ever be known.
The court document charging Morel with obstruction makes no mention of any sexual misconduct, instead simply accusing the former prosecutor of interfering with a grand jury investigation by telling an unnamed individual to destroy photographs that documented an improper meeting between Morel and a defendant.
It’s possible that more detail will be contained in a summary of the charges against Morel, called a factual basis, that will be prepared in connection with his guilty plea.
Authorities may also release an audio recording of a 911 call made in 2010 by a St. Rose woman who apparently claimed Morel had come to her house and made some kind of unwelcome advance. The woman, Danelle Keim, later cooperated with the FBI in its investigation, but she died of a drug overdose in 2013, before the probe bore fruit.
The St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office has confirmed receiving such a call, but the office has thus far refused to release it because of the ongoing investigation. Morel’s guilty plea may change that posture.
It’s also possible that a pre-sentence investigation, conducted by a probation officer, will reveal more about the extent of Morel’s conduct. Such investigations are generally not made public, though the judge imposing the sentence often makes references to their findings.
Moreover, victims, if any exist, also could write to Engelhardt before he sentences Morel. He faces a maximum of three years in prison on the obstruction charge.
Morel opted not to seek re-election in 2012, making way for current DA Joel Chaisson II, who then hired Morel as a part-time assistant.
Morel retired from the office in January 2013, around the time the federal investigation into his actions as DA became public.