A former Louisiana State Penitentiary guard convicted twice in the 2014 beating of a handcuffed and shackled Angola inmate has seen one of his convictions thrown out by a federal judge who cited improper juror comments.
Ex-Angola Maj. Daniel Davis was first found guilty in January 2018 of conspiring with several other corrections officers to cover up the assault by filing false reports, tampering with witnesses and lying under oath.
That Baton Rouge federal court jury, however, failed to reach a verdict on whether Davis actually beat the inmate and a mistrial on that count — willfully depriving the inmate of his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment — was declared by U.S. District Judge John deGravelles.
At a second trial on that charge before a different jury in November, Davis, of Loranger, was convicted. He has not been sentenced.
Immediately after the verdict, deGravelles met informally with the jurors to thank them for their service and learned that the jury foreman had informed fellow jurors during the trial that Davis had been tried before and convicted on some counts and that the second trial was a retrial.
In granting a defense motion for a new trial Monday, deGravelles wrote that the "potential for prejudice is significantly exacerbated by knowledge that the prior trial and convictions were directly related to the very offense for which the defendant stood trial."
A July 8 date has been selected for what would be a third trial in the Davis case. Federal prosecutors could choose not to try him again.
“We are reviewing all options and will make a decision at the appropriate time,” U.S. Attorney Brandon Fremin said Friday.
Andre Belanger, one of Davis’ attorneys, expressed pleasure with deGravelles’ “well-reasoned opinion.”
“Mr. Davis maintains his innocence and is looking forward to his trial date,” Belanger said.
In his written ruling, deGravelles called it "particularly alarming" that the information from the jury foreman was disseminated to fellow jurors immediately after the jury was excused to begin its deliberations.
“There is at least a possibility — and a strong one in the Court’s view — that knowledge of this information tainted the defendant’s presumption of innocence and altered the burden of proof at his trial,” the judge stated.
Federal prosecutors argued, among other things, that the information was actually more prejudicial to the prosecution than the defense because the “natural inference” that a prior jury was unable to reach a verdict “is that there is reasonable doubt” of guilt.
No word yet on whether the juror will face repercussions. The judge noted that in his preliminary and final instructions to the jury, he directed the panel to refrain from conducting independent research or from considering any information not revealed during the course of the trial.
Three other former Angola guards — John Sanders and James Savoy, both of Marksville, and Scott Kennedy, of Beebe, Arkansas — have pleaded guilty in the case but have not been sentenced.
The inmate suffered fractured ribs, a punctured lung and dislocated shoulder, and other injuries. He sued Davis, Sanders, Savoy and Kennedy, and the case was settled in 2016.