3rd Circuit overturns Latracus Henry’s conviction

 

    District Attorney Charles Riddle will appeal the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal’s order overturning the conviction of Latracus Henry on a charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
    Riddle said that should the Louisiana Supreme Court uphold the appellate court decision, he will proceed with a new trial for Henry.
Henry, of Bunkie, was originally charged with 2nd-degree murder in the shooting death of Dana Schenk. However, a deathbed statement by Schenk that the shooting was an accident made prosecution for murder difficult.
    Instead, the DA prosecuted Henry for the lesser offense. However, because he was a multiple offender, then-Judge Mark Jeansonne sentenced him to 26 years at hard labor without benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence.
   The 3rd Circuit found that the jury in Henry’s case received outside information -- specifically, that Schenk was killed in the incident that led to Henry’s arrest. That information was not presented at trial.
    While in deliberations, jurors sent a note to Jeansonne asking whether they should be disqualified because they had learned about Schenk’s death. The defense attorney moved for a mistrial, but the prosecutor said the issue would be resolved by a written instruction from the judge that they consider only what was presented at trial. Jeansonne agreed and so instructed the jury.
    The jury voted 10-2 to convict Henry.
    The issue of a “tainted” jury came up again when jurors were polled.
    “We should have been disqualified, because that influenced a lot of people,” an unidentified juror was quoted in the court transcript.
    The issue was discussed further by Jeansonne, Riddle and one or more jurors.
    Henry appealed the conviction on the grounds that the trial court erred by not declaring a mistrial. The appeals court agreed.
    “The record shows that this information became a matter of general discussion within the jury,” the court said in its decision. “Ms. Schenk’s death became an important enough topic that the jurors needed to consult the judge about whether they ought to be disqualified.” 
    The three-judge panel said jurors were not called back into the courtroom to be asked about the information they had heard or to determine if the jurors felt they could be impartial having learned that  Schenk had died  at Henry’s hands -- even if it was an accident.
    “The trial court’s failure to recall and question the jurors should not denigrate the gravity of the jury’s concerns,” the decision continued. “Rather, the trial court’s failure to ensure the jury’s continuing impartiality, coupled with the fact that the jurors themselves believed disqualification may have been warranted, shows actual prejudice to the defendant that made a fair trial impossible."
    Jeansonne said he respects the court’s decision but disagrees with it. He said jurors are instructed to consider only evidence presented in trial and take an oath to “follow the law that applies to the case at hand and ignore rumor and ignore things that are not admitted into evidence.”
   Jeansonne said a judge “cannot insulate jurors from television, radio or newspaper commentary.” He added that in most cases, jurors are allowed to go home every evening. 
   “If jurors in a particular case did not follow the court’s instructions, then they did not abide by their oath and they caused a reversal,” Jeansonne continued. If the Supreme Court feels that the jury did not honor this defendant’s rights, then they have cost our parish a re-trial. That will be a decision for the Supreme Court, and I will respect it.”

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