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New Orleans officers won’t face death penalty

Four New Orleans police officers charged with first-degree murder in the deadly shootings that took place near a bridge in the chaos following Hurricane Katrina will not face the death penalty if convicted, a prosecutor said Thursday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Four New Orleans police officers charged with murder in shootings that took place in the chaos that followed Hurricane Katrina will not face the death penalty if convicted, a prosecutor said Thursday.

Sgts. Kenneth Bowen and Robert Gisevius Jr., Officer Anthony Villavaso II, and former officer Robert Faulcon Jr. were indicted in December on first-degree murder charges and attempted murder charges in the Sept. 4, 2005, shootings on the Danziger Bridge that killed two men and wounded four other people.

District Attorney Eddie Jordan’s office still plans to try the four for first-degree murder, Assistant District Attorney Dustin Davis said. But, instead of seeking a death sentence, prosecutors will ask for the alternative sentence of life in prison without parole if the four are convicted, Davis said.

Lorna Humphries, sister of Ronald Madison, who was killed in the shootings, said the family agrees with the decision.

“We’re in concurrence. We completely support the district attorney’s office in their decision,” Humphries said.

‘Appropriate decision’
“I think it was the appropriate decision. It would have defied all precedent had they sought the death penalty for a police officer who was in his line of duty,” said defense attorney Franz Zibilich, who represents Faulcon.

Asked if his client would be relieved to hear the prosecutors’ decision, Zibilich said: “Our position all along is that they did not commit any crime, but I suppose he will be somewhat relieved to have this remote possibility removed."

Two other officers — Robert Barrios and Mike Hunter Jr. — were charged with attempted first-degree murder, and Officer Ignatius Hills was charged with attempted second-degree murder.

In the chaos that followed Katrina, Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally retarded man, and James Brissette, 19, were shot and killed by police on the bridge.

The last time a New Orleans jury handed down a death penalty was in September 1997.

‘Is that fair?’
The six current officers returned to low-profile jobs on Monday. They are not allowed to wear uniforms, make arrests or carry weapons and they’re closely monitored, police said. They also continue to wear ankle bracelets that track their whereabouts.

Madison’s brother, Romell Madison, on Wednesday called for Mayor Ray Nagin to overturn the police superintendent’s decision to allow the officers to return to work.

“These men have been indicted with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder charges by a grand jury of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court system,” said Madison. “For them to be allowed to resume their jobs is a slap in the face of justice.”

Another Madison brother, Lance Madison, was also on the bridge. He was cleared of attempted murder charges after spending over a month in jail.

“My brother Lance has still not been able to return to work,” said Humphries, who owns an engineering consulting firm. “It’s been hard on him. First he watched his brother gunned down then he was arrested. He’s been out of work 17 months now, but the police are back. Is that fair?”