Accused Bourbon Street shooter Trung Le pleaded not guilty to counts of manslaughter and attempted second-degree murder in Criminal District Court this morning.
Le entered his plea a day after his lawyer, Martin Regan, labeled him a hero, saying Le saved lives when he fired on a second, still-unnamed shooter about 2:45 a.m. on June 29.
Regan told the New Orleans Advocate that a state grand jury never heard from witnesses who could have vouched for Le’s actions before it indicted him last week.
“It’s amazing that they don’t put on the victim that got shot four times and the other people that were standing right there with a gun in their face,” Regan said. “Most of them said they would not be alive but for Mr. Le’s actions.”
Regan said this morning that he will seek a bond hearing today in front of ad hoc Judge Dennis Waldron. Regan was in a hallway outside the courtroom speaking with Robert Benvenuti, one of the 10 people injured by gunfire in the incident and a friend of Le’s, and three other witnesses Regan intends to put on the stand.
Regan said Benvenuti, who was shot four times in the fracas, told him that he never appeared before the grand jury.
“If Le had not acted, (Benvenuti) would be dead,” Regan said.
Regan has consistently argued that Le, 21, of Belle Chasse, acted in self-defense in the incident.
The manslaughter count relates to the killing of Brittany Thomas, a 21-year-old Hammond woman who died a few days later from the wounds she suffered when gunfire erupted in the 700 block of the city’s most famous entertainment strip. Nine others, including Benvenuti, were injured.
The victim of the count of attempted second-degree murder is referred to in the indictment only as an “unknown black male,” a description that likely refers to the second alleged shooter, whom police have yet to name or arrest.
Regan claims the other man, who he says was heavily intoxicated, pulled out a .40-caliber handgun and cocked it before Le got off the first shot, hitting the man, who then fired away.
New Orleans police have not said how many of the victims were shot with which weapon. But they initially booked Le on a count of first-degree murder and nine counts of attempted first-degree murder.
A spokesman for District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said the evidence didn’t support those charges.
The state’s case against Le appears to be an unusual one; Loyola law professor Dane Ciolino called the manslaughter charge “very rare” and “curious.” Prosecutors seem to be suggesting that Le provoked Thomas’ killing, perhaps by firing on the second shooter, Ciolino said.
Yet in many cases where someone is alleged to have committed a crime that led to a killing, the suspect is still charged with murder, he said.
Ciolino said he expects that the second suspected shooter would be charged with a murder, if he’s caught.
Based on the charges, “I’m sure the ballistics don’t support” a claim that Le killed Thomas, he added.
Le’s bail has been set at $1.5 million.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.