GONZALES — A Slidell man acquitted of molestation Thursday by a jury but still held in jail over the weekend was released Monday afternoon after prosecutors determined that trying him again on a second count would run afoul of constitutional double-jeopardy protections.
Ascension Parish jurors found Frank Webb Jr., 43, of Slidell, not guilty on the molestation of a juvenile count 10-2 Thursday night, but prosecutors would not release him over the weekend.
Prosecutors said they wanted to review whether Webb could be brought to court again on the more-serious charge of aggravated sex crimes with a juvenile, also involving the same victim.
Webb originally was indicted by the Ascension Parish grand jury in fall 2013 on both the molestation and aggravated sex crimes charges and later arrested in Slidell by St. Tammany Parish sheriff’s deputies. Only the molestation charge was brought forward in the three-day trial last week at the Ascension Parish Courthouse Annex in Gonzales.
His public defender, Jarrett Ambeau, claimed Webb’s case was a clear instance of double jeopardy and protested Friday that his client remained in jail. The Fifth Amendment prevents a defendant from being prosecuted more than once on substantially the same charge.
On Monday morning, Assistant District Attorney Joni Buquoi dropped the aggravated sex crimes with a juvenile charge before 23rd Judicial District Judge Jason Verdigets without argument.
Speaking from his brother’s cellphone late Monday afternoon riding with him back to Slidell, Webb said he was doing better now that he is free after sitting in jail for 15 months on false charges.
“A whole lot better now,” said Webb, who was released about 4 p.m. Monday.
Webb said he believes his civil rights were violated when he was kept in jail more than three days after he was acquitted. He said he plans legal action against the 23rd Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
“This can happen to anybody, and it probably has. I can’t be the only one that this has happened to,” said Webb, a diesel mechanic who had lived in Ascension for 14 years.
“If something isn’t said and done, it’s going to keep happening to people.”
St. Tammany Parish sheriff’s deputies arrested Webb on Nov. 8, 2013, at his Slidell-area home on allegations he was forcing a then-16-year-old girl to have sex with him at various locations in Ascension Parish.
Webb had moved to Slidell from Prairieville, deputies have said.
The Ascension Parish grand jury indicted him in late October of that year.
Buquoi said in an interview that prosecutors did not immediately release Webb because she wanted to review case law in which prosecutors in another case were able to try the same man separately on molestation and carnal knowledge of juvenile charges.
But Buquoi said prosecutors concluded that double jeopardy wasn’t likely to be overcome on the second charge against Webb.
Both bills of indictment laid out allegations against Webb involving the same girl over the same four-year period.
Ambeau asserted that whenever the state wants to use the same evidence to try someone a second time, when the first time that evidence led to the defendant’s acquittal, it’s clearly a case of double jeopardy.
Joshua Webb, 33, of Slidell, Frank Webb’s brother, attended his brother’s trial and was at the courthouse Monday awaiting the prosecutor’s decision.
Once court minutes from Monday’s proceedings were transferred to jail officials, Joshua Webb said, he was able to get his brother out of jail and now plans to help him start over.
“Then, hopefully he can get his life back on track,” said Webb, who maintains his brother’s innocence.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter @NewsieDave.