Judge orders new trial for cops E-mail
Written by Mark Nichols   

According to FOX News, a federal judge has ordered a new trial for five former New Orleans police officers convicted of civil rights violations stemming from deadly shootings on a bridge after Hurricane Katrina, concluding the case had been tainted by "grotesque prosecutorial misconduct." U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt said at least three government attorneys posted anonymous comments on a New Orleans newspaper's website that created a "carnival atmosphere" that rendered a fair trial unlikely.

"The public must have absolute trust and confidence in this process," the judge wrote.

"Re-trying this case is a very small price to pay in order to protect the validity of the verdict in this case, the institutional integrity of this court, and the criminal justice system as a whole."

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina made landfall back in 2005, police shot and killed two unarmed people and wounded four others on the Danziger Bridge. (below)

Five former officers cooperated with a Justice Department investigation and pleaded guilty to engaging in a cover-up.

After a jury convicted five other former officers in 2011, the officers’ attorneys charged that prosecutors’ online comments and leaks to news organizations were part of a "secret public relations campaign" that deprived their clients right to a fair trial.

Engelhardt granted their request for a new trial but he wasn’t happy about having to do so.

"The government's actions, and initial lack of candor and credibility thereafter, is like scar tissue that will long evidence infidelity to the principles of ethics, professionalism, and basic fairness and common sense necessary to every criminal prosecution, wherever it should occur in this country," he wrote.

Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson said prosecutors were disappointed in the judge’s decision to grant the officers a new trial.

"We are reviewing the decision and considering our options," she said in a statement.

The Justice Department appointed John Horn, a veteran federal prosecutor from Georgia, to conduct a new probe of the allegations.

Horn's investigation determined that Karla Dobinski, a Washington-based attorney in the Justice Department's civil rights division, posted anonymous comments on nola.com during the last week of the trial.

Dobinski wasn't one of the government prosecutors but she did testify at an April 2011 pretrial hearing.

Engelhardt said he was shocked by the fact that the attorney endangered the case by posting online comments and said it was a key factor in deciding to order a new trial.

In a footnote to his ruling, Engelhardt said the news organizations "perpetuate the viability" of the officers' bid for a new trial "and support its merit by implication" by refusing to identify their sources.

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