Jul 102013
 

Judge Benjamin C. Bennett, Jr.

District Judge Benjamin C. Bennett, Jr. (1987-1990)

Judge Benjamin Clyde Bennett, Jr. passed away at his residence in Marksville on Tuesday, July 9, 2013 at the age of 88. He was the judge who presided at the Avoyelles Parish District Court and denied Vincent Simmons’ Application for a Writ of Mandamus in 1988, in which the prisoner had requested a copy of his arrest report.

His son, Judge William Joseph Bennett, is alleged to have been the sentencing judge in Simmons’ case, according to defense lawyer Laurie White’s review of the pre-parole report. The true trial judge was Judge Earl Edwards, who died in 1998 at the age of 90.

Judge Benjamin C. Bennett’s second son, John Taylor Bennett, also is a lawyer. He partnered with retired District Attorney Charles A. Riddle, Jr. (the father of current District Attorney Charles A. Riddle, III) who had previously practiced with “Eddie” Knoll (Simmons’ prosecutor).

Go to the obituary here.

 

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May 312013
 

Press Release

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Jason Giroir, 35, a former correctional officer with the Louisiana State Penitentiary (LSP) in Angola, La., pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge James J. Brady for the Middle District of Louisiana for his role in covering up an incident in which correctional officers used excessive force against an inmate.  Giroir admitted filing a false report and subsequently providing false information to the FBI about the incident.  Investigation of the incident is ongoing.

As a result of his guilty plea, Giroir faces a statutory maximum sentence of 25 years.

“Instead of lawfully carrying out his critical public safety responsibilities, Mr. Giroir covered up the violent actions of other officers,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Roy Austin.  “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute officers who cross the line and engage in criminal misconduct.”

In a related case before Judge Brady, former LSP Officer Kevin Groom entered a guilty plea.

To read more, click here: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2013/May/13-crt-617.html

 

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May 232012
 

The National Registry of Exonerations is a new joint project of the University of the Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. It maintains an up to date list of all known exonerations in the United States since 1989, including Louisiana, of course.

There were at least 38 (state and federal) exonerations in the Pelican State during the past 23 years, which makes the top-prison state also one of the top-10 exoneration states in the USA. From 1989 through 2012, the National Registry of Exonerations has reported:

  • 1 exoneration in Caddo Parish
  • 1 exoneration in Calcasieu Parish
  • 1 exoneration in East Baton Rouge Parish
  • 1 exoneration in Jackson Parish
  • 8 exonerations in Jefferson Parish
  • 13 exonerations in Orleans Parish
  • 1 exoneration in Sabine Parish
  • 3 exonerations in St. Tammany Parish
  • 2 exonerations in Terrebonne Parish
  • 2 exonerations in Union Parish
  • 1 exoneration in Washington Parish.

Rural Avoyelles Parish is one of the parishes where someone has been falsely convicted but never exonerated. If Vincent Simmons was exonerated one day and his case became an entry in the National Registry of Exonerations, it might list as typcially contributing factors:

  • perjury or false accusation
  • deliberate misidentification
  • official misconduct
  • lack of forensic evidence, and
  • (maybe even) fabricated crime.
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Feb 132012
 

Innocence Project Newsletter of February 8, 2012

…With Connick v. Thompson, the U.S. Supreme Court took away one of the only remaining means for the wrongfully convicted to hold prosecutors accountable for willful misconduct. Although all other professionals, from doctors to airline pilots to clergy, can be held liable for their negligence, the Supreme Court has effectively given district attorney offices legal immunity for the actions of their assistants, even when an office is deliberately indifferent to its responsibility to disclose exculpatory evidence.

It is now up to our elected officials to strengthen our existing systems and create new ones if necessary to ensure that prosecutor’s offices are accountable and transparent. Contact your elected officials and demand that they strengthen safeguards against prosecutorial misconduct and protections for the wrongfully convicted in your state.

Sincerely,

Barry Scheck
Co-Director
The Innocence Project

———————————————————

Join the campaign by visiting the website at http://www.prosecutorialoversight.org and on Facebook and Twitter.

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Jul 282011
 

Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards

Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, United States Congress image
Courtesy U.S. federal government

The State of Louisiana has executed 15 of 28 individuals sentenced to death under Governor Edwin W. Edwards since 1976 — 13 by electrocution and 2 by lethal injection.

Edwin Edwards himself has recently finished an 8+ year term in federal prison for a corruption conviction and still claims that he was merely guilty of arrogance.

If Edwards actually does know the pain, damage, and what it means to be imprisoned for a crime one did not commit, would it not be a good thing for him to use his popularity and powerful connections to help free those in Louisiana’s penal system who can prove their innocence, but are repeatedly denied their constitutional rights in court?

Vincent Simmons is a native from Edwards’ home parish and one of those who are not just serving a few years, but decades, life without the benefit of parole, pardon or suspension of sentence, or even a death sentence in prison — wrongfully convicted.

Edwards and his third wife may be the stars of a new TV show soon. Nothing specific is known. However, a reality television show about the struggle of innocent prisoners would not only be entertaining, interesting and educational, it might be constructive and improve the injustice system. What you say, Mr. Edwards? Are you ready to step on your political friends’ toes?

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Jul 132011
 

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, July 12, 2011

 

Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against Louisiana Alleging Violations of the National Voter Registration Act

WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice announced today that it has filed a lawsuit against the state of Louisiana and a number of Louisiana state agencies and officials alleging that the state has violated its obligations under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).

The complaint, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, alleges that Louisiana has violated the NVRA by failing to provide voter registration services at offices providing public assistance and serving persons with disabilities in Louisiana.   Specifically, the complaint alleges that Louisiana officials have not routinely offered voter registration forms, assistance and services to the state’s eligible citizens who apply, recertify or provide a change address for public assistance or disability services, or benefits.

“The voting process begins with registration. Therefore, it is essential that all citizens have unfettered access to voter registration opportunities,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.   “The department is committed to enforcing the National Voter Registration Act so that neither income nor disability status stands in the way of equal voter registration opportunities for all citizens.”

The lawsuit seeks a court order declaring that the defendants have failed comply with the requirements of Section 7 of the NVRA, and requiring Louisiana to take all necessary steps to come into compliance with federal law.   The suit seeks to require Louisiana to effectively publicize the required voter registration opportunities and provide the court with a remedial plan that will ensure future compliance.  

Congress enacted the NVRA in 1993 in part to enhance citizen participation in elections by making voter registration opportunities readily available and accessible to the largest possible segment of the American public.  In addition to requiring that voter registration be offered at motor vehicle offices and by mail, the NVRA also mandates that states offer voter registration through agencies that provide essential services to citizens with disabilities and low income citizens.   Congress found that if it did not require states to offer voter registration at public assistance and disability services agencies, it would exclude a large segment of American citizens from having convenient opportunities to participate in our democracy.  

More information about the NVRA and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice website at www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/ .   Complaints about discriminatory voting practices may be reported to the Voting Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931.

Source: www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2011/July/11-crt-908.html

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May 222011
 

book-cover

Book Cover

If truth was as clear, powerful, and respected as water, Simmons’ actual innocence—demonstrated in the new book “Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons: Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish” by Katja Pumm—would wash him out of the penal system. He has been confined since Monday May 23, 1977—which falls on the same weekday this year.

TIME LINE

MONDAY, MAY 9, 1977 (approx. 9 P.M. – 12 P.M.):
Eighteen year-old Keith Laborde is driving around with his minor cousins Sharon and Karen Sanders in his old car. 

SUNDAY, MAY 22, 1977 (approx. 6 P.M.):
Sharon and Karen Sanders report to Sheriff “Potch” Didier, Major Fabius Didier, Captain Floyd Juneau and Deputy Barbara DeCuir at the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff’s Office that a “black man” raped them on May 9, 1977.

MONDAY, MAY 23, 1977:
(7 A.M.): Captain Floyd Juneau’s and Lieutenant Robert Laborde’s shift begins.
(8 A.M.): Juneau and Laborde “decide” to arrest African American Vincent Simmons.
(9 P.M.): Simmons is strolling down Waddil Street in Marksville near the St. Joseph cemetery. Lead investigator Captain Floyd Juneau and Lieutenant Robert Laborde come by in their patrol car and arrest him “on view,” without an arrest warrant, for two counts of aggravated rape. 
At the Sheriff’s Office, Potch Didier tells Captain Melvin Villemarette to establish a line-up with the arrestee. The line-up consists of one white and seven black persons. Fotos show that Simmons (number 4) is the only one in handcuffs.Keith Laborde, Sharon and Karen Sanders are together in the room behind the mirror and indentify the handcuffed man.
(approx. 9:30 A.M. – 10:00 A.M.): Officers Laborde and Villemarette take the shackled Simmons upstairs to the ID room. They do not interrogate him. Vincent Simmons refuses to sign a confession that Laborde has formulated. Lieutenant Robert Laborde shoots Simmons in his left chest missing the arrestee’s heart by three inches. Several colleagues and the sheriff witness the scene seconds later. Laborde and Villemarette allege that Simmons took Villemarette’s gun and tried to shoot them.
Before the shooting, Keith Laborde begins to give his statements to Deputy Barbara DeCuir and Captain Floyd Juneau.
Coroner F. P. Bordelon arranges for the shooting victim to be rushed to the Huey P. Long Hospital in Pineville, Louisiana. Simmons is unconscious. Lieutenant Laborde’s weapon is released for investigation.

District Attorney “Eddie” Knoll calls the victims’ family at the house of Keith Laborde’s father.Sharon and Karen Sanders give their handwritten statements.
Judge Earl Edwards now orders to arrest Vincent Simmons for the rape of Sharon and Karen Sanders. The police officers take fotos of Keith Laborde’s car and the alleged crime scene on Little California Road. Lieutenant Robert Laborde writes a supplementary report concerning the “offense” of the “investigation and shooting of Vincent Simmons” in Captain Villemarette’s and his own name.

TUESDAY, MAY 24, 1977:
Coroner F. P. Bordelon examines both girls and discovers that one of the girls’ “hymen was in tact and I was unable to insert one examining finger.” The twins mention the name “Vincent Simmons” for the first time while telling Dr. Bordelon what happened on May 9, 1977.Captain Juneau and Lieutenant Laborde request a search warrant for the homes of two of Simmons’ sisters. They seek “maroon trousers, silk looking shirt with tassle like appendages” and a “brown handle pistol about six or seven inches long.

WEDNESDAY, May 25, 1977:
(2:30 P.M.): Captain Floyd Juneau seizes a “black shirt with ruffles,” a “pair maroon jeans,” and a “pair of double knit pants (maroon in color)” at Simmons’ common law brother-in-law’s house. The investigators Floyd Juneau and Robert Laborde charge Vincent Simmons with two counts of aggravated rape and two counts of attempted murder.

FRIDAY, MAY 27, 1977:
Four days after the shooting, Vincent Simmons is released from hospital. Sheriff deputies take him back to Avoyelles Parish and put him in a one man jail cell at the Sheriff’s Department.  
 

FRIDAY, JUNE 10, 1977:
The Grand Jury of Avoyelles Parish indicts Vincent Simmons for two counts of aggravated rape and two counts of attempted murder and returns a True Bill.Coroner F. P. Bordelon formulates his findings about his medical examination of the two fourteen-year-old girls in his written reports addressed to District Attorney “Eddie” Knoll.  

THURSDAY, JUNE 23, 1977:
Public defender Harold Brouillette files a Motion for Preliminary Hearing. Judge Earl Edwards orders that “a preliminary hearing be held in the case of State of Louisiana vs. Vincent Simmons on the two counts of aggravated rape on the 7 day of July, 1977, at 1 o’clock P.M.” 
WEDNESDAY,

JUNE 29, 1977:
The United States Supreme Court rules in Coker v. Georgia that the death penalty is unconstitutional for the crime of rape.
THURSDAY, JULY 7, 1977 (1 P.M.):
After the preliminary hearing, Judge Edwards schedules Simmons’ trial for July 18, 1977.
 

THURSDAY, JULY 14, 1977:
Assistant District Attorney Jeannette Theriot Knoll files a Motion to Amend Indictment. She requests that the indictment of two counts of aggravated rape be amended to two counts of attempted aggravated rape. Judge Edwards signs the motion behind closed doors–without a second Grand Jury hearing.
Note: now after the decision in Coker v. Georgia, aggravated rape only carried a twenty-year sentence per count upon conviction because there was no other law in the books yet. Attempted aggravated rape, however, would imprison Simmons for fifty years per count, if convicted. 
 

MONDAY, JULY 18, 1977: jury selection 

TUESDAY, JULY 19 and WEDNESDAY, JULY 20, 1977: trial. It ends with a guilty verdict. 

THURSDAY, JULY 28, 1977:Judge Earl Edwards imposes a one hundred-year sentence (fifty years for each count, to run consecutive).

Case summary with documents on the Innocent in Prison Project International website at http://cases.iippi.org/vincent-alfred-simmons/

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May 182011
 

On recommendation of the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana, the Louisiana Supreme Court ordered on May 10, 2011, that Justice of the Peace Roger Adams, Sr., of Ward 7/ Simmesport, 12th District, Parish of Avoyelles, State of Louisiana, be suspended without pay for one year, followed by a two-year period of probation, attend the Attorney General’s justice of the peace training every year until his term of probation is completed, reimburse and pay to the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana the sum of US$532.58. 

The court opines that Adams violated Canons 1, 2 (A), and 3 (A) (1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct, and Article V, Section 25 (C) of the Louisiana Constitution 

Adams, an African-American non-lawyer and Democrat has been in office for eight years. The first time the Louisiana Supreme Court suspended him was in June of 2007 (In re: Adams, 07-0426 (La. 6/29/07), 959 So.2d 474). The justice of the peace admitted he had issued arrest warrants for two persons for a parade permit violation and having set excessively high bonds in retaliation for their political opposition to the mayor of the Town of Simmesport, James T. “Boo” Fontenot (July 7, 1951 – August 4, 2008) 

In April 2008, an inmate at the Avoyelles Women’s Correctional Center in Simmesport asked Adams to sign a judgment of her and her husband’s divorce. Although justices of the peace do not have jurisdiction (La. Code Civ. Proc. art. 4913) in such matters, Adams signed the document and received a US$10.00 “notary fee” in return.  Further mistakes were:

Adams uses the Justice Court Manual prepared by the Louisiana Attorney General to assist justices of the peace in the performance of their duties, but he also admits that he made a “hasty decision.” 

The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled, “Adams’s [sic] lack of familiarity with even the most basic rules pertaining to the exercise of his authority in a civil matter constitutes serious misconduct.”

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