An Orleans Parish judge on Tuesday declared a mistrial in a murder case after an attorney for the defendant revealed that she represents a company partly owned by the wife of the lead homicide detective in the case.
Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter held back the jury for 24 hours to give District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office time to file an emergency writ challenging his decision, which came at about 11:30 a.m.
Leroy Price, 29, was on trial in the Nov. 15, 2013, killing of Shawn “Buck” Cheneau, a husband and father of a young girl. Cheneau was gunned down in the parking lot of a Burger King in Gentilly after two men rolled up in a vehicle with tinted windows and opened fire. Emergency workers rushed Cheneau, 28, to Interim LSU Hospital, where he died.
Price, one of three initial suspects in the murder, was captured in Lafayette in May 2014. A grand jury indicted him in July for the murder.
Prosecutors were set to resume their case Tuesday morning when defense attorney Tanzanika Ruffin alerted the court that she represents Code 3, a police supply company, in civil litigation.
She said the company is partly owned by the wife of Charles Hoffacker, the New Orleans police detective who led the homicide investigation. Thus, the detective has a community property stake in her business.
Ruffin said she had been unaware they were still married.
Hoffacker, whose crime-inspired art has won him a kind of local celebrity, was later suspended from the force for five days after allegedly writing on the ground with Cheneau’s blood. He has since been transferred out of the Homicide Division.
Hoffacker had not yet testified in the trial, but prosecutors were expected to call him to the witness stand Tuesday before Hunter declared the mistrial.
Both sides agreed at first that Ruffin’s representation of Hoffacker’s wife didn’t amount to a conflict, and Price “stated his desire to continue with his current representation,” Hunter wrote in his two-page opinion.
Later, however, Price told the judge he was uncomfortable with the situation. That’s when Hunter ordered the mistrial, declaring that “an actual conflict exists such that defendant Price would not receive adequate defense representation.”
Along with Ruffin, attorneys Eric Malveau and Michael Kennedy represented Price during the aborted trial.
“Obviously, what we want is the best outcome for our client. None of us were aware of this potential conflict until this morning,” Kennedy said after the judge’s ruling. “He is fighting a case where the sentence is mandatory life. He certainly deserves to feel comfortable with the people sitting next to him on his behalf.”
The state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal had not ruled on the DA’s challenge as of late Tuesday.
Price’s criminal record includes arrests on drug violations, gun possession and, in 2011, a murder, Picard said. Orleans Parish court records show that Cannizzaro’s office refused the murder case in early 2012.
Price was sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty in April 2012 to firearms and drug charges.
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