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Federal judge orders new trial in police killings after Katrina

Cars pass over the Danziger Bridge in July 2010 in New Orleans, La. Five New Orleans Police Department officers were convicted in the Danziger Bridge shooting deaths of two unarmed residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.Mario Tama / Getty Images

A federal judge has ordered a new trial for five former New Orleans police officers convicted of killing two people and injuring four others in a shooting on a bridge after Hurricane Katrina.

Citing "grotesque" misconduct on the part of federal prosecutors, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt granted a new trial Tuesday to Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon, Anthony Villavaso and Arthur Kaufman.

All five officers were convicted in 2011 of civil rights violations for shooting the unarmed people on New Orleans' Danziger Bridge in the chaotic days after Katrina and were accused of orchestrating a cover-up later to make their actions appear justified. The shootings occurred on Sept. 4, 2005, six days after Katrina brought New Orleans to a stand-still.

Robert Faulcon Jr., Robert Gisevius Jr., Kenneth Bowen, and Anthony Villavaso II are seen in 2007. Arthur Kaufman, the fifth officer in the trial, is not pictured.AP, file

In a biting 129-page order, the judge said testimony and evidence he has reviewed in granting the new trial "illustrates the diseased root that unfortunately casts an eradicable taint on these convictions." 

Engelhardt's said his decision stemmed from alleged prosecutorial misconduct, citing, among other examples, revelations that prosecutors in former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten's office had posted negative comments online about the Danziger case and other cases under pseudonyms.

One comment, posted on NOLA.com, the website of the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper, read: "The NOPD [New Orleans Police Department] has been a joke for a long time," the order says. Another read: "I can only hope, as others here, that the new mayor [Landrieu] will clean house and fumigate 715 South Broad [NOPD headquarters] the day he is elected."

Engelhardt gave the parties involved in the lawsuit a month to set a new trial date.