Jermaine Hudson

Jermaine Hudson at Louisiana's Capitol Thursday, May 13, 2021, to support House Bill 346, which would grant new trials to some 1,500 inmates convicted under split-jury verdicts. 

Facing opposition from district attorneys, a proposal that would have granted new trials to as many as 1,500 inmates convicted in Louisiana by non-unanimous juries failed to advanced out of a House committee Thursday.

The 5-7 vote along party lines came several weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to make its previous ban on the Jim Crow-era system apply retroactively.

House Bill 346 from Rep. Randall Gaines, D-LaPlace, would have skirted that ruling by allowing those inmates to apply for parole or receive new trials. With its failure, any hope for immediate relief now rests in the hands of local district attorneys. 

"Today showed that people won't do the right thing unless they're forced to do it and now it becomes incumbent on us to figure out how to force the State Legislature to join us," said Jamila Johnson of the New Orleans-based Promise of Justice Initiative, which has led the challenge to split verdicts in Louisiana.

Loren Lampert, the head of the powerful Louisiana District Attorneys Association, submitted a red card in opposition to the measure, but did not testify. He previously argued that retrying some of the cases, including homicides in more than half of them, would be impractical given how much time had passed. 

The law allowing split juries was enshrined in Louisiana's Constitution in 1898, when delegates bent on restoring white supremacy in the state — primarily by removing Black people from voter rolls — agreed to allow felony convictions by as few as nine of 12 jurors.  That threshold was upped to 10 jurors in the 1970s. 

The Supreme Court last year outlawed split jury verdicts in Louisiana and Oregon, the only two states to allow them, in a 6-3 vote. But neither the ban on split verdicts by Louisiana voters in 2018, nor the high court’s ruling last year, spelled relief for inmates who have exhausted their appeals – a process that can run a few years.

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"We have real concerns about the accuracy of these convictions," Johnson said during testimony Thursday, noting that 80% of their clients convicted on non-unanimous juries are Black and many were convicted without forensic evidence. 

Jermaine Hudson spent more than half of his 42 years locked up on a non-unanimous jury conviction for armed robbery. The day after his conviction was vacated in March, his accuser admitted to fabricating the accusation.

"I know there are more people like me, innocent, serving time on non-unanimous jury verdicts," Hudson said. "I lost 22 years of my life for a crime that didn't even take place with a 10-2 jury verdict."

Voting Against HB346: Nicholas Muscarello, R-Hammond; Kathy Edmonston, R-Gonzales; Mike Johnson, R-Pineville; Joseph Orgeron, R-Larose; Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport; Charles Owen, R-Rosepine; Thomas Pressly, R-Shreveport. 

Voting For HB346: Randall Gaines, D-LaPlace; Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans; Jones; Edmond Jordan, D-Brusly; Frederick Jones, D-Monroe; Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans. 

This story is developing. Check back later for updates. 

Email Blake Paterson at bpaterson@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter @blakepater