The man accused of killing Baton Rouge Police Lt. Glenn Hutto Jr. and another man in April is entitled to a prompt probable cause hearing, a lawyer with the Capital Appeals Project in New Orleans is arguing for the second time.

Ronnie Kato, 36, has been jailed since the fatal April 26 shootings and is being held without bail. He has not been indicted, but East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III has said his office intends to seek the death penalty.

"Mr. Kato has a constitutional and statutory right to a prompt preliminary examination," Joshua Schwartz, a staff attorney with the Capital Appeals Project, argues in a motion filed last week in Baton Rouge state court.

It is the second time Schwartz has filed a motion for a preliminary exam. The first motion was filed in late April.

Probable cause is determined at a preliminary examination. The defense can subpoena and cross-examine witnesses at such a hearing.

Schwartz filed another motion in April to enroll in the case for the limited purpose of protecting Kato's rights, but Moore said Monday that no judge in the 19th Judicial District Court has indicated that Schwartz may enroll for only a limited role.

"It is our belief that no one with recognized authority to represent the defendant in this case has requested a preliminary hearing and therefore no such request is legally before the court," the district attorney said.

Schwartz points out that the state constitution says the right to a preliminary exam "shall not be denied in felony cases except when the accused is indicted by a grand jury."

A grand jury has not yet taken up Kato's case.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic shut down the East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury until June 10, when it met for the first time since March 12.

"Mr. Kato has the right to a prompt preliminary examination. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic should not result in further delay," Schwartz argues. "While the pandemic has caused temporary Court closures, the Louisiana Supreme Court has expressly approved of hearings conducted via video conferencing to protect the health and safety of all involved."

Detectives believe Kato fatally shot his girlfriend's stepfather, Curtis Richardson, 58, on North Pamela Drive off North Sherwood Forest Drive the morning of April 26, then shot Hutto, 45, and Baton Rouge Police Cpl. Derrick Maglone as they looked for him at a home on Conrad Drive off Winbourne Avenue and North Foster Drive that afternoon.

Hutto, 45, was killed. Maglone, 35, was critically injured and released from the hospital May 7.

Kato, of Baton Rouge, barricaded himself in a house after the shooting and was taken into custody after a standoff with police that lasted several hours.


Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.