Four decades after a New Orleans shooting spree that claimed 10 victims, one of whom died, Carlos Poree on Tuesday was ordered released from a state mental hospital to a less restrictive setting on the hospital grounds. 

Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Camille Buras ruled that Poree, who has been diagnosed as schizophrenic, will be transferred from the mental hospital in Jackson to the less restrictive Secure Forensic Facility.

Poree, 75, was found not guilty by reason of insanity for a series of shootings that left one person dead and nine others wounded in 1977.

Doctors testified Tuesday that he has been free of symptoms for decades, expresses regret for his crimes and willingly submits to medication.

Poree’s lawyers had asked the judge to release him to Harmony House, a facility in Baton Rouge where he would be allowed to leave for work. However, the judge said she was still wary about releasing Poree to a residential neighborhood.

“The court is not at all ready to transfer Mr. Poree to that unrestrictive a setting,” Buras said.

Poree’s commitment to the Secure Forensic Facility is to last for five years. The facility is locked, but patients are sometimes allowed to leave on “excursions,” according to Dr. John W. Thompson, chief of staff at the Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System.

Poree’s attorney, Katherine Mattes, declined to comment on the ruling.

Buras’ decision came two months after 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Higginson said he was “troubled” that Poree has remained locked up in the mental health hospital for so many years, against the recommendations of his doctors.

Nevertheless, the federal judge said his hands were tied by U.S. Supreme Court precedents that leave decisions about whether someone is still dangerous up to state courts. 

Poree’s previous request for a transfer to Harmony House came in 2010. Buras denied him any kind of less restrictive setting at that time, finding that his “danger is inherent” in the shootings he committed.

On Nov. 7, 1977, Poree shot his estranged wife and her father; traveled to Bourbon Street, where he shot three people at random; and then went to a Merrill Lynch brokerage office on Common Street, where he shot a group of office workers, one of whom died.

Poree was initially found guilty before that conviction was overturned, and he was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Since his commitment at the Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System in 1999, he has been through a lengthy cycle of court hearings to determine whether he still presents a danger to the public. Buras denied him more lenient conditions four times between 2002 and 2011.

On Tuesday, Poree sat placidly as two forensic psychiatrists who have treated him for years told the judge that he is a model patient who could be placed in a less restrictive setting.

Every 14 days, Poree receives an intramuscular injection of Risperdal. Dr. Franklin Bordenave, who has treated Poree since 2010, said medication has kept his patient completely free of symptoms of schizophrenia.

“He functions well in the unit, he gets along with staff, he gets along with his peers, he’s sociable, he’s friendly ... even at his age, he’s eager to go. He does basically everything he can at the hospital,” Bordenave said.

“I believe he feels very remorseful about what happened. When discussing his symptoms in the past, he seems sort of embarrassed that he experienced those symptoms,” the doctor said.

Bordenave recommended Poree be sent to the Baton Rouge facility.

Thompson went one step further. “I would feel comfortable, if he had willing friends and family members, for him to go the community,” Thompson said.

Despite the doctors’ recommendations, Buras expressed concern, given the severity of the shooting spree four decades ago. 

Assistant District Attorney Michael Dannon raised the possibility of what might happen were Poree to stop taking his medicine.

“That creeping darkness and mental illness is still in his mind. It’s still there, and it will never go away,” Dannon said. “That level of dangerousness will always be there.”

Poree’s next commitment hearing will be Oct. 31, 2022. He will be 80 years old.

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.

msledge@theadvocate.com | (504) 636-7432