A defense attorney is attempting to subpoena a fellow member of the criminal bar in order to force him to testify at the trial of a suspect in the killings of a Reserve couple who were thrown to their deaths from an Interstate 510 bridge in 2014.
The unusual maneuver from Leon Roché, a staff attorney for the Orleans Public Defenders, comes as his client Steven Bradley faces a murder trial Monday.
Bradley is accused of taking part in a conspiracy with Horatio Johnson and another man to tie heavy kettlebells to a married couple and toss them off the bridge. The bloated bodies of Kenneth and Lakeitha Joseph surfaced days later.
In a motion filed this week, Roché claims that defense attorney David Belfield may have crucial information about Belfield's client Brittany Martin, who testified as a cooperating witness at Johnson’s trial in August.
After a nearly two-week trial, the jury took less than two hours to convict Johnson by 11-1 votes on two counts of second-degree murder and a count of conspiracy to obstruct justice.
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The subpoena appears to be an attempt to undermine the credibility of Martin, who started dating Johnson while she was a state prison guard and he was serving time on an earlier manslaughter conviction.
Criminal District Court Judge Benedict Willard has not ruled on Roché’s request for a subpoena.
Martin, 28, said she was present on the night the Josephs died but did not take part in the killings. In a deal with the District Attorney’s Office, she was spared a life sentence on second-degree murder counts in exchange for pleading guilty to obstruction of justice.
In gripping testimony at Johnson’s trial, she recounted watching him choke Lakeitha Joseph, tagging along as the kettlebells were purchased at a Walmart in Kenner and watching as the couple fell to their deaths.
However, Johnson’s defense lawyer suggested that much of her testimony was a tall tale intended to avoid a life sentence. He highlighted the shifting version of events Martin gave to police and prosecutors before they reached a deal.
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Roché pointed to those meetings in his motion for a subpoena of Belfield. “Belfield was present during multiple meetings with Ms. Martin and different representatives of the state,” he said.
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Belfield said he will appear in court if subpoenaed. But he questioned whether the exercise will produce anything of value for Bradley’s defense.
“I don’t know to what extent he’s going to be able to question me where I’m not violating my attorney-client privileges,” he said. “Why would you need me, and what benefit would that be to you, of what I did as a lawyer? I don’t understand the relevance of that. Particularly when you got the person who cut the deal that’s going to take the stand. You can ask her directly.”
Belfield said it was only the second time in a 30-year career that he can recall being subpoenaed by a fellow defense lawyer.
Although she pleaded guilty nearly three years ago, Martin’s sentencing has been delayed while her co-defendants’ cases play out. Her agreement with prosecutors requires her to testify.
Assistant District Attorney Kevin Guillory said Martin remained devoted to her boyfriend for months after her arrest and before she was confronted with evidence that he was using her. “She went from being afraid to being in love to being a woman scorned,” he said at Johnson's trial.
Willard sentenced Johnson to life plus 60 years in prison at a September hearing.
“The jury found the evidence to be overwhelming. Evidence shows that both victims were savagely abused, battered and physically restrained and possibly beaten unconscious," Willard said, according to court minutes. The defendant "was a mastermind behind these vicious murders, having manipulated the key witness for several months convincing her not to testify."
If Belfield does take the witness stand, it won’t be the first time the defense lawyer has donned a different hat in the criminal courthouse at Tulane Avenue and South Broad Street.
Belfield is also the uncle of New Orleans Police Officer Daryle Holloway, who was killed in the line of duty in 2015. He has attended many of the hearings of murder suspect Travis Boys as a member of the victim’s family.
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