Greenhouse release on bail stirs emotions
Mon, 11/30/2015 - 09:48
By Raymond L. Daye
Emotions ran high when one of the two Ward 2 deputy marshals charged in the death of 6-year-old Jeremy Mardis was released on bail following a hearing in 12th Judicial District Court this past Tuesday.
Reactions on social media were generally bitter about murder suspect Norris Greenhouse Jr. being released on a record $1 million property bond posted by his parents.
District Judge Billy Bennett heard arguments for about 45 minutes and then reviewed evidence for about 20 minutes before ruling that Greenhouse’s father, an assistant district attorney, could post the property bond for his son.
Prior to the hearing, the screams of a small group of protesters echoed in the courthouse square. When an APSO vehicle pulled up and Greenhouse emerged, the protests got louder and several members of the news media converged on the shackled Greenhouse -- wearing an orange jumpsuit and a brown bulletproof vest.
“Stop killing our children,” yelled Teresah Lachney of Marksville.
Bennett said Greenhouse’s parents -- Norris Greenhouse Sr. and Cheryl Greenhouse -- had posted sufficient property to meet the $1 million bond and the suspect is entitled under state law to be released on bail pending his trial. The $1 million bond was the largest ever paid in the history of Avoyelles Parish.
After mortgages were filed Tuesday afternoon, Greenhouse walked out the front door of the jail and was joined by his attorney and parents.
Greenhouse has been charged with 2nd-degree murder of 6-year-old Jeremy Mardis and attempted 2nd-degree murder of the child's father, Chris Few, on Nov. 3.
Greenhouse and co-defendant Derrick Stafford were on duty as Ward 2/Marksville deputy marshals when they pursued and stopped Few's vehicle at the dead end on Martin Luther King Drive in Marksville and allegedly fired 17-21 bullets into the vehicle.
Bennett said Sheriff Doug Anderson acted correctly in delaying Greenhouse’s release on bond due to a literal reading of a state law prohibiting attorneys and officers of the court from posting bail. The elder Greenhouse is an attorney and an assistant district attorney.
The purpose of Tuesday’s court action was to clarify the intent and the extent of that law in prohibiting a parent who is an attorney from posting bail for a child.
Attorney George Higgins, representing Greenhouse, argued that the law -- Article 320 of the Code of Criminal Procedure -- was intended to prevent attorneys from posting bond for their clients.
Bennett later noted the law is there to stop lawyers “from drumming up business” by bailing suspects out of jail.
Higgins said to prevent a parent from posting bond for a child just because of the parent’s occupation is unduly harsh, unreasonable and absurd.
Kurt Wall, with the Attorney General’s Office, said there is very little case law relating to Article 320.
However, he said there is a 1986 disciplinary hearing against an attorney in which one improper act was the posting of bail for his brother in violation of that provision.
However, it was pointed out later that the attorney in that case was also enlisted as the attorney for his brother.
Wesley Elmer, attorney for the Sheriff’s Department, noted that there was an Attorney General’s opinion this past May which stated there is no exception to Article 320 that would allow an attorney to post bond for a family member.
Bennett ruled that a literal interpretation of the law results in a violation of Greenhouse’s constitutional right to due process and “produces an absurd and unreasonable result.” He then ordered Anderson to accept the bail posted by the suspect’s parents.
A condition of the bail is that Greenhouse remain on “house arrest” with electronic monitoring and that he surrender all guns, badges and other police identification and documents.
Tuesday’s proceedings got off to a rocky start when Bennett opened what was supposed to be a 10 a.m. hearing and asked where the defendant was.
Bennett said he issued an order Friday for the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Department to transport Greenhouse to the Avoyelles sheriff and for APSO to then bring him to court for the hearing.
Anderson told the judge that he was not aware of the order.
After a short conference at the judge’s bar with attorneys for all parties, Bennett recessed the hearing to 11:30 a.m. and instructed that Greenhouse be brought to the courthouse for the hearing.
The small but vocal group waiting in the courthouse parking lot also reacted when word of Bennett’s decision was announced and when Greenhouse came out of the building.
“Baby killer,” Lachney shouted at Greenhouse as he was put into a sheriff’s vehicle after the hearing.
Patrick Jeansonne of Bunkie was among those protesting.
“I just want justice to be served,” he said. “I want the judge and the district attorney to step down.”
He said it is not enough that the DA’s Office has recused itself from prosecuting the case. He said he has contacted the Department of Justice to seek its assistance in ensuring “there isn’t a cover up.”
In his “reasons for ruling,” Bennett said that “persons who are arrested and accused of crimes are entitled to bail.” Bennett said the most fundamental principle of the U.S. judicial system is that “a person accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
“Although the court of public opinion has already tried and convicted both defendants, this court has not,” Bennett said. “This court is a court of justice and justice will be served.”
The “court of public opinion,” based on Facebook comments, was strongly against the decision. Comments included references to “legal loopholes” and preferential treatment based on the defendant’s family’s connections.