Jury box stock

File photo

For the second time in as many years, a convicted Baton Rouge rapist has been granted a new trial — this time because the jury's verdicts were not unanimous.

Sedrick Hills, 45, who is accused of raping a 15-year-old girl in 2003, was first granted a new trial early last year by state District Judge Trudy White after a Black female juror alleged that a White male juror made racist remarks about Hills, who is Black.

The state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal later threw out her ruling and ordered a hearing on the alleged juror misconduct.

An ad hoc judge, Bruce Bennett, then refused to grant Hills a new trial after ruling that the juror's allegation was not corroborated by her fellow jurors, each of whom had testified at the court-ordered hearing.

Bennett sentenced Hills to 12 years in prison last November.

Five months later, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a New Orleans case that Louisiana and Oregon's laws allowing non-unanimous jury convictions were unconstitutional.

The high court said its decision applied to defendants whose cases are still pending on direct appeal.

Armed with that ruling, the Baton Rouge-based 1st Circuit last week set aside Hills' convictions and sentence and sent the case back to the 19th Judicial District Court for a new trial.

Hills, who was formally charged in 2014 after DNA evidence linked him to the sexual assault, was found guilty in 2018 of forcible rape and another sexual assault-related charge. The verdicts were 11-1 and 10-2, respectively.

His attorney, Robert Tucker Sr., alleged Friday that Hills has been detained illegally since the Supreme Court's April 20 ruling. He is fighting to have him released.

"He's still there (in jail) even though the convictions have been set aside. You've got a man with no conviction still sitting in jail," Tucker said.

Hills had been free on bail leading up to his sentencing a year ago.

The East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney's Office is asking state District Judge Tiffany Foxworth to issue a "no contact" order, also known as a protective order, on behalf of the alleged victim and her immediate family members as part of any bond the judge sets.

At Hills' sentencing, Bennett — a retired judge — raised eyebrows when he told Hills he would consider reducing his 12-year prison term if he paid $150,000 to his victim, and if she accepted.

The victim later said outside the courtroom that she wasn't interested in receiving any money from Hills.

Bennett explained later in a court filing that he was merely trying to empower the victim "to control her own economic destiny and receive compensation for this reprehensible and life-changing action."

Bennett stressed that the choice is hers and hers alone, and said the option is neither a form of bribery by the defendant nor extortion by the victim.


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