Two suspects police describe as ring leaders of the violent "D-Block" gang could soon be back on the streets of New Orleans. Criminal Court Judge Darryl Derbigny drastically lowered bail for Glynn “Spot” McCormick and Lawrence Conway from $1 million to $150,000. The two will now be free to continue terrorizing the neighborhood they control, according to prosecutors.
“These are very violent criminals who have been afforded an opportunity to make bond on some very serious charges. I think, quite frankly, this is a slap in the face to law enforcement,” Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said.
Police arrested McCormick, Conway and five others after a yearlong investigation. Authorities say the "D-Block" gang operates on Dumaine Street near South Broad Avenue, where there have been seven killings and many more shootings in recent years.
“This is not just some street-level individual drug dealers. This is an association. This is a gang, and their enterprise is selling drugs,” said Rafael Goyeneche of the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission.
Prosecutors describe McCormick, 32, as an incorrigible criminal. He's been arrested twice this year alone. Police found heroin, marijuana, three guns including an assault rifle and $14,000 in cash in McCormick's home in March. They found $8,000 in his car in May. Police also say McCormick was hiding a bag of heroin on him when it exploded in the back seat of an NOPD car.
Derbigny's lowering of suspected gang leaders' bail is typical of his other questionable decisions. In the case of the 2005 uptown murder of 20-year old Alyssa Kovash, Derbigny acquitted one of her accused killers even though the suspect confessed to being a part of the robbery causing her murder. Derbigny took less than a day to acquit, even refusing prosecutors the chance for closing arguments. Kovash's mother left the courtroom in tears, accusing Derbigny of making up his mind before the trial began.
In another case last year, an appeals court tossed out a jury's guilty verdict of a man accused of raping a boy and girl, both age 12. The 4th Circuit Court blamed Derbigny's lack of following proper procedure, calling it "greatly concerning."
There's also the 2014 case of musician Doug Potter, who suffered permanent brain damage after he was beaten walking to his car in the French Quarter. State law mandated the suspect get life as a habitual offender. But after criminal justice reform legislation passed, it opened the door for Derbigny to reduce his sentence. The judge cut it from life to 20 years. But he wouldn't allow Potter's wife, Cynthia, to testify during the re-sentencing hearing. She said afterward that she was "disheartened and angry that the victim is no longer important."
In 2013, Derbigny acquitted a convicted felon caught with an AK-47 with a 30-round magazine in the trunk of the car he was riding in. Louisiana state law restricts felons from possessing guns. But Derbigny ruled that law unconstitutional. The Louisiana Supreme Court later ruled otherwise.
Last year, in a case involving a 34-year old woman accused of attempted murder, Derbigny abruptly declared a mistrial before jurors were even sworn in. The prosecution and defense sought an emergency writ and an appeals court quickly overturned Derbigny ordering the trial proceed.
And then there's the disturbing case earlier this month of 29-year old Christopher Butler, a man twice accused of trying to kill 20-year old Gavonte Lampkin. You would think if anyone would be denied bail, it would be a suspect who twice tried to kill someone. But Derbigny set Butler's bail at $380,000, meaning he would have to come up with only 10 percent of it. Imagine Lampkin's fear knowing the man he says tried twice to kill him was once again walking the streets. Within days of Butler's release, Lampkin's body, along with his girlfriend's, was found in New Orleans East. Both were shot several times and their corpses burned. Butler's defense attorney admitted to an Advocate reporter with Lampkin dead and no longer able to testify, it likely doomed the case against his client.
Derbigny was elected in 2002. He ran unopposed in 2014 and remains on the bench until 2020.
Email Dan Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org.