Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office dropped murder charges Thursday against four Baton Rouge men who testified last month at a trial that ended in acquittal for their friend Donovan Carter in a 2010 killing in the French Quarter.
Carter, 27, the alleged triggerman, had been jailed since the death of 37-year-old Thomas Jessie the morning after Halloween in 2010.
But prosecutors secured an indictment only last fall against his friends — Philip Francois, Michael Johnson, Lamarcus Murray and Tavoris Smith — who were initially detained with Carter that night but were released after questioning.
The indictment issued by a state grand jury on Nov. 12 accused each of the four, along with Carter, of murder and conspiracy to commit armed robbery.
It came in response to a judge’s refusal to grant another trial delay for Carter after five years.
“What should the state do if somebody is refusing to cooperate and they may have been involved or know more information?” Assistant District Attorney Laura Cannizzaro Rodrigue asked the jury during Carter’s trial. “The state had to exercise some of its authority … in order to get the witnesses into court.”
Rodrigue returned to court Thursday to drop the charges against the four men.
An attorney for Francois, 27, said later that the indictment was unnecessary.
“I think it goes to show there never really was a case against these other four. They just arrested them to get them into court,” attorney Jerome Matthews said. “If my client would have received a subpoena, he would have come to court on his own.”
Francois was jailed for more than six months before the district attorney’s action Thursday and lost his job as a result, his mother said.
A spokesman for Cannizzaro’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The jury acquitted Carter on May 12 amid allegations that his attorney, John Fuller, may have violated state ethics rules or committed a crime when he visited two of the other men in the middle of the trial without asking their attorneys for permission.