Evidence room lock

The hinge to the door of an evidence room at the Orleans Parish Criminal District courthouse is broken in this image released by the clerk's office.

Jurors at Orleans Parish Criminal District Court are regularly called upon to puzzle through crimes that happen elsewhere in New Orleans.

But on Friday, authorities uncovered an unsolved crime inside the courthouse itself. Someone broke into an evidence room in the building’s attic, Clerk of Court Arthur Morrell said.

The room, which stores guns and other items from closed crime investigations but not narcotics, was being inventoried on Friday to determine if anything was taken, Morrell said.

“We didn’t notice anything missing,” he said of an initial sweep. “Nothing looked disturbed or altered or changed.”

Morrell said he thought the break-in happened on Thursday before 7 p.m. The door, which was protected by a single, weak lock, appeared to have been pried open with a crowbar, he said.

The clerk said he does not anticipate that any upcoming trials will be affected because the room contained evidence only from closed cases. Most of the evidence was being stored ahead of disposal, he said.

“We don’t see any possibility of any case being jeopardized,” he said.

The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office is responsible for security at the courthouse building, but an official there said the New Orleans Police Department was leading the investigation into the break-in.

Andy Cunningham, a Police Department spokesman, said, “They’re going to be doing a more detailed inventory just to make sure, but at this time we don’t believe anything was taken.”

The probe could be hampered by the fact that there were no security cameras trained on the room.

“We are reviewing our facilities and making sure that the safety precautions and security are updated. This area doesn’t have cameras, but we’re going to have them installed,” Morrell said.

This isn't the first time a local evidence room has been targeted.

In October 2006, a city janitor was arrested for raiding cocaine, cash and ammunition from an evidence room at Orleans Parish Civil District Court, where prosecutors were storing evidence for the District Attorney's Office's Juvenile Division.

The janitor, Craig Alton "Poncho" Thompson, said he opened the room on a lark, according to a Times-Picayune article at the time. He burned through most of the cash in the slot machines at Harrah's Casino.

Thompson pleaded guilty to simple burglary and cocaine possession in 2008, court records show.

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msledge@theadvocate.com | (504) 636-7432