The jury may have thought it was doing Larry Rudolph a favor.
After an unusual trial in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court where none of Rudolph’s alleged victims took the stand and none of the jurors knew he had already been acquitted of armed robbery in the same case, the New Orleans man was convicted of a lesser charge Thursday on a 10-2 vote.
Yet, in a remarkable twist, Rudolph is now looking at an automatic life sentence for the same New Orleans East holdup of which he was acquitted in federal court two years ago.
The only-in-Louisiana outcome came courtesy of the state’s strict habitual-offender laws, a non-unanimous jury verdict and an exception to the constitutional prohibition on double jeopardy.
State prosecutors hailed the verdict as a just outcome for a career criminal who has repeatedly manipulated the criminal justice system to win acquittals. Defense attorneys said the trial was marred by the absence of key witnesses.
"Mr. Rudolph, through his repeated criminal conduct, poses a danger to this community," District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said in a statement. "We are heartened that this state court jury agreed to hold him accountable for his continued violent conduct."
Defense attorney William Snowden of the Orleans Public Defenders said he was frustrated that he could not cross-examine Rudolph’s accusers and by the fact that the jury had no idea Rudolph was facing a life sentence.
“If the jurors actually knew what Mr. Rudolph was facing, that might have influenced what verdict, if any, they were able to come back with,” he said.
Rudolph, 54, has a lengthy criminal rap sheet from the 1980s and 1990s involving convictions for kidnapping and armed robbery.
New Orleans police and the FBI said that on April 8, 2014, he committed the crime that could put him behind bars for life. They said he robbed a man and woman of cash and a Hummer H3 outside a Chef Menteur Highway gas station.
Police said that after Rudolph threatened the Hummer’s driver, Deshawn Bourgeois, the driver borrowed a store clerk’s gun and fired 18 shots. Rudolph drove off in the Hummer as the fusillade shattered its back window.
The incident happened not long after Rudolph put himself on prosecutors' bad side. In July 2013, a Criminal District Court jury had acquitted him of stealing a watch from a man in the French Quarter at gunpoint.
A federal grand jury charged Rudolph with carjacking and other counts in June 2014. Much of the government’s case rested on secret recordings made by Dwestley Ratcliff, an FBI informant, and testimony from Bourgeois.
Federal jurors apparently felt they weren’t reliable. The jury acquitted Rudolph on all charges on June 17, 2015. Seven days later, though, he was back behind bars after the District Attorney’s Office secured an indictment on state charges in the same case.
The constitutional ban on double jeopardy — being tried for the same crime again after having been acquitted — usually prevents such prosecutions. However, the state and federal governments are considered separate entities.
The same exception to double jeopardy allowed federal prosecutors to convict Jefferson Parish man Cyrus Casby in a quadruple murder after he was acquitted on state charges.
Before Rudolph's trial began, Criminal District Court Judge Karen Herman barred the defense from mentioning the federal acquittal. Over the objections of the defense, she also said prosecutors could recycle Bourgeois’ testimony from the federal trial without having to call him, because Bourgeois was unavailable.
Long portions of the trial consisted of Ratcliff’s recordings and transcripts from the federal trial. Prosecutors also told the jurors about the separate 2013 armed robbery trial involving the stolen watch, even though Rudolph was acquitted in that case.
Rudolph himself testified about what he said really happened in April 2014 in New Orleans East. In a steady, low voice, he explained that Bourgeois was his drug dealer and the two got into a fight over a batch of bad weed.
“This was strictly a fist fight behind some marijuana. Neither one of us had a gun,” he said.
Rudolph said he hopped into the Hummer simply to save his skin after Bourgeois started shooting.
Snowden said in his closing statement that Rudolph had been denied his right to confront his accusers.
“I can’t cross-examine a transcript. You can’t tell someone’s credibility from a transcript. You can’t get people’s attitude, you can’t get people’s doubt, you can’t get people’s uneasiness,” Snowden said.
He also blasted prosecutors for calling the 2013 jury’s verdict into question. “Don’t let them disrespect those 12 jurors,” he said.
Referring to that 2013 verdict, Assistant District Attorney Jason Napoli told the jury Thursday that Rudolph was a “con artist.”
“Why was he so comfortable getting up on the witness stand, looking at 12 citizens of this city and lying?” Napoli said. “He thinks you are that 2013 jury. You have to be better than that.”
Napoli said Bourgeois' statements to police and Ratcliff’s testimony about what Rudolph told him lined up perfectly, even though the two men did not know each other.
"If Deshawn and Dwestley do not know each other, this man’s innocence is impossible," he said.
In the end, the jury returned a split verdict: Rudolph was convicted of first-degree robbery, instead of armed robbery, and was acquitted of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Although first-degree robbery carries a three- to 40-year sentence, Louisiana’s habitual-offender law mandates that Rudolph will be sentenced to life Monday because of his previous convictions.
Snowden promised to appeal.
“His wife and his mom were crying, and he was letting them know that this isn’t over. He’s still going to be fighting,” Snowden said.