May 312016
 
Warden Burl Cain (Louisiana State Penitentiary) Photo: Blake Boyd's "Louisiana Cereal."

Warden Burl Cain (Louisiana State Penitentiary)
Photo: Blake Boyd’s “Louisiana Cereal.”

Hardly any other warden in the USA has been covered by national and international media as much as the longest serving, controversial, former warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary (LSP) at Angola, also known as “The Farm”. Often, the coverage was positive – especially from authors and film makers who intended to return for more stories – when it was about rehabilitation through religion, morals, inmate labor, and consequences. Others criticized him for arbitrariness, how he handled high profile prisoners like the “Angola 3” (former Black Panthers) and non-Christians (including Catholics), while he made his friends’ convicted friends or relatives trusties with amazing privileges: An undisputed double murderer was working at the Governor’s Mansion and stayed at the State Police Barracks in Baton Rouge. On another lifer’s behalf, Cain coaxed a videotaped deathbed confession from a dying LSP prisoner, which – however – allegedly did not fit the details of the killing.

Republican Nathan Burl Cain actually managed to have got a tight grip on many important things in the State of Louisiana. He was the wirepuller, a powerbroker. Officially, not everything that is (not) granted to the prisoners he oversaw was in Cain’s power, but those working for the state give a warden’s word “a tremendous amount of weight,” State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson says in an article by The Advocate of Baton Rouge.

Burl Cain was born on July 2, 1942 and grew up with his siblings in the small rural town of Pitkin (Vernon Parish), approximately 50 miles west of Avoyelles Parish. He earned a bachelor’s degree at the Louisiana State University in Alexandria and graduated with a master’s degree in criminal justice from Grambling State University in Lincoln Parish.

Cain then worked in the Louisiana branch of the American Farm Bureau Federation and soon became Assistant Secretary of the money-making agri-business (now also known as the Prison Enterprises Division) for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. At the age of 38, Cain was appointed to the position of Warden of the Dixon Correctional Institute (1981-1995) at Jackson – one of the Farm’s satellite prisons.

In 1990, Cain successfully campaigned and became the employee representative on the State Civil Service Commission. The commission is a “review board that enacts and adjudicates State Civil Service Rules to regulate state personnel activities, and hears appeals from state employees and agencies,” reads its website. Cain served for 20 years and was the commission’s chairperson until 2011.

In 1991, Cain was a co-founder of the newly established organization Louisiana Wardens and Superintendents (LAWS) that pursued the appointment of his friend, Richard Stalder, as the corrections secretary (1992-2008) by lobbying Governor Edwin Edwards. In 1995, Stalder returned the favor and promoted his supporter Cain to the position of Warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, the oldest and largest state prison. The Farm is the only maximum security facility in the pelican state.

In 2002, Burl Cain was inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame (one year before his boss, Department of Corrections Secretary Richard Stalder, was honored the same way in 2003).

In 2011, a federal investigation into Burl Cain’s private real estate deals began. In early 2015, Cain considered running for governor, but eventually did not do so. Last December (effective January 1, 2016), Warden Cain abruptly quit his well-paid job when the Baton Rouge Advocate for not quite a month had been investigating Cain’s private dealings with family and friends of some of his own inmates. Due to a now-closed loophole, retired Cain continues to live in the warden’s residence on the prison ground for free and receives more than three-fourth ($134,000) of his prior annual salary this year until August 2016.

Cain is a businessman to the core and has been the state’s highest paid civil servant. Some might be of the opinion that whenever he has a hand in something, it either serves his power, his purse, or ideally both. Current state legislator, Senator J.P. Morrell (Democrat), is chairman of the committee that oversees the Department of Corrections (DOC). He wants to fill loopholes in the law that the Department of Public Safety and Corrections may have used in Cain’s vindication of any wrongdoing. The main objective is that no warden is getting away with fraternizing with an inmate’s loved one again. Meanwhile, further probes by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections have far reaching implications in Cain’s network of family members, friends, colleagues, and beyond.

There have been several different allegations and parallel investigations in this scandal around the Cain Clan by the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, the state Inspector General’s Office (specialized in public corruption), the State Police, and Louisiana’s legislative auditor. But how reliable are all the probes when family bonds and political ties are stronger than ethics and morals in the State of Louisiana? Some of the key figures around Burl Cain, Sr. are:

James LeBlanc
Current Department of Corrections Secretary (annual salary: $136,700), Cain’s ex-boss and “very best friend”, reappointed by the newly elected Governor John Bel Edwards (not related to ex-Governor Edwin Edwards). Earns $30,000 less than Cain (annual salary: $167,200) per year. LeBlanc and Cain are close longtime friends and private business partners. The Advocate reports that during LeBlanc’s tenure of office, “Cain’s children have been steadily promoted within the department’s hierarchy without raising any questions of nepotism.”

Richard Lee Stalder
Former Department of Corrections Secretary (1992–2008). Cain along with the LAWS lobbied Governor Edwards and Edwards in return appointed Stalder as corrections secretary, a position traditionally given to political supporters. Stalder had been one of Cain’s former deputies and ex-warden of the Wade Correctional Center. As corrections secretary, Stalder promoted Cain from the Dixon Correctional Institution to the Louisiana State Penitentiary in 1995. He was inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame one year after Cain in 2003.

Nathan Burl “Nate” Cain II
Cain Sr.’s eldest son has been the Warden of the Raymond Laborde Correctional Center (RLCC) formally known as the Avoyelles Correctional Center (ACC) in Cottonport since 2012. (Annual salary: $109,000.)

Three years before his promotion to the top job at the Avoyelles Correctional Center (ACC), Nate Cain had been Warden Robert Henderson’s deputy at the Phelps Correction Center in DeQuincy and witnessed the brutal beating of a recaptured work release inmate in handcuffs by three guards and praised them for the “good job”, reports The Advocate. According to the prisoner, Nate Cain even participated in the assault himself. Neither the District Attorney’s Office, nor the FBI seem to have a record of the incident. Cain Jr.’s misconduct was not prosecuted and did not end his career either. Instead, he climbed up the ladder. Phelps was closed, ACC’s Warden Lynn Cooper retired, and Cain Jr. took over. Sergeant Randon Harrington, who was involved in the inmate beating at Phelps, is now a major at RLCC. Jessie Bellamy and Brandon Fruge were the other two guards implicated in the misconduct. Bellamy now is a captain at Angola and Fruge does not work in corrections anymore.

Avoyelles Parish has made headlines for escapes from jails and prison for decades. Except for a female guard, there have never been meaningful consequences for those persons in charge. Now it is not about the escape of a criminal but – as far as journalists could find out – about $76,000 of state money for a possibly unauthorized construction (the “Ranch House”) near the RLCC’s prison gate, its’ shutdown late last year, and misconduct regarding reports of inmate rapes.

Amidst an internal probe, Cain Jr. was on paid leave from April until May 24, 2016, when he resigned alleging some health issues. RLCC’s internal investigators Beau Milligan and Randon Harrington remain on paid leave.

Tonia Cain
Cain Sr.’s daughter-in-law, Nate Cain’s wife, is RLCC’s ex-prison business manager. She retired on May 20, 2016 amidst an internal probe now claiming her husband’s health issues.

RLCC’s Deputy Warden Paul Gaspard retired on May 18, 2016.

Marshall Cain
Cain Sr.’s second son is Regional Manager of Prison Enterprises. Annual salary: $63,500.

Seth Smith, Jr.
is Cain Sr.’s son-in-law. Smith is an expensive “Confidential Assistant” (also called “the No. 2 official”) for the Department of Public Safety and Corrections. He assigns prisoners, i.e. their low-paid labor, to the profitable Transitional Work Program for parish sheriffs and private operators.
Smith’s annual salary: $150,000. That is $13,300 more than his boss, Department of Corrections Secretary LeBlanc, receives.
Smith is former deputy warden of the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center at St. Gabriel, a prison complex plagued with high-profile escapes. Warden Howard Prince quit his job and Smith replaced him.
According to the Associated Press, Smith was also “the person tasked with locating supplies of lethal injection drugs for use at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola” two years ago, when companies refused to sell the chemicals for such purpose after botched executions in other states.

Tim Hooper
is Deputy Warden of the Elayn Hunt Correction Center in St. Gabriel. Hooper’s son is married to Cain’s granddaughter and Seth Smith’s stepdaughter: Capt. Kristen Hooper.

Kristen Hooper
is Captain at the Angola Prison. She is Cain Sr.’s granddaughter, Seth Smith’s stepdaughter, and Tim Hooper’s daughter-in-law.

Kenny Norris
is Cain Sr.’s assistant warden at Angola and married to Cain’s niece. He lives in Cain Sr.’s hometown Pitkin. An allegation regarding a payroll fraud (annual salary: $93,000) could not really be investigated, because Norris was not required to log his comings and goings as his colleagues must do. State Police investigator Trooper Jesse Brown and D.A. Sam D’Aquilla relied on Norris himself, his family and subordinates. They determined that they are not charging Norris, although assistant warden Stephanie Lamartinier found out that Norris’ time sheets did not add up with those from the front gate log books.
Deputy Warden Leslie Dupont, Col. Stewart Hawkins and Capt. Kristen Hooper supported Cain’s and Norris’ statement.

James David Cain
is Burl Cain Sr.’s older brother (born on October 13, 1938)
1972–1992: Louisiana State Representative for District 32 (Allen, Beauregard, and Calcasieu parishes)
1992–2008: Louisiana State Senator for District 30 (Beauregard, Calcasieu, and Vernon parishes)

James Hilburn
is a lawyer for the state.

Pam Laborde
is the ex-Communications Director for the Department of Public Safety and Corrections. She stepped down for an unknown reason on May 23, 2016 after 12 years in office. She did not answer my email.

Natalie Laborde
is a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

Darrel Vannoy
is Angola’s new warden replacing Burl Cain Sr.

Greg Phares
is the ex-chief investigator with the state Inspector General’s Office. He writes in a letter to the editor of The Advocate that he did not participate in the report of March 22, 2016, by Inspector General Stephen Street. The Advocate concludes that the “reports thought to clear Cain might deserve more scrutiny.”

Stephen Street
is the Inspector General. He defends Burl Cain Sr.’s exoneration, because his team was of the opinion that there was not enough evidence for a criminal case against Cain. According to The Advocate, two corrections employees came forward to the newspaper and stated that they had worked for free on the property of Burl Cain Sr.’s wife, Jonalyn Cain, but that no investigator has ever interviewed them.

William Kissinger
is a Louisiana state prisoner and whistleblower, who became the target of Burl Cain Sr.’s retribution. Kissinger used to serve time for murder at Angola, but in February of 2016, he was transferred to the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel against his will and allegedly thrown into a lockdown cell. The New Orleans Advocate reports that a federal judge once “ordered Cain to leave Kissinger alone”.

More in the book “Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons: Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish”

Related:

“Mr. Marksville” dies at the age of 88

Book: With Edwards in the Governor’s Mansion – From Angola to Free Man

Louisiana Correctional Officer Pleads Guilty to Covering up Assault on an Inmate

Ex-Governor Edwin Edwards back on stage

Ex-Governor Edwin Edwards’ credibility

USA: Almost 50% of all prisoners worldwide are in the “Land of the Free”

Legislators slowly react to Louisiana’s collapsing penal system

 

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Jan 192016
 

Raymond Julian Laborde (August 18, 1927 – January 17, 2016) is dead. Without its icon, Marksville’s “good old days” are almost over. On January 20, 2016, his interment will be at the St. Joseph Cemetery #1 (the same place, where Vincent Simmons allegedly threatened Sharon and Karen Sanders and their cousin Keith Laborde to kill them, if they told anyone of the rapes.)

Raymond Laborde’s first triumph was when he defeated his lifelong friend Edwin Edwards for senior class president at the local high school in 1943. Six years later, the Loyola graduate launched the Raymond’s Department Store, which he was running to the very end. It was directly across the street from the court house and much more than a simple clothing store. It was a place where small town politics was made.

Raymond Laborde held several honorary posts, served three terms as Mayor of Marksville, twenty years as state legislator in Baton Rouge, and four years as Commissioner of Administration under Governor Edwin Edwards. Since 2003, Laborde has been a member of the Political Hall of Fame in Louisiana.

A few years ago, he – along with District Attorney Charles Riddle – spearheaded the movement against Republican Ex-Governor Bobby Jindal’s proposal to privatize or even to close prisons in central Louisiana, especially the Avoyelles Correctional Center in Cottonport, where one of Laborde’s sons works as a GED teacher.

Some people wonder how Raymond Laborde has managed to keep a clean slate throughout all those decades in politics, while a number of his best friends and politicians close to him were investigated or even convicted.

Read more in the book “Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons: Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish.”

These articles might interest you:

Jobs – a free ticket for nearly everything in politics

Legislators slowly react to Louisiana’s collapsing penal system

USA: Almost 50% of all prisoners worldwide are in the “Land of the Free”

Ex-Governor Edwin Edwards back on stage

Ex-Governor Edwin Edwards’ credibility

 

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Sep 172015
 

Do mass incarceration and its destructive consequences sicken you? Voters in Louisiana, this is your turn now! Louisiana voters have 5 weeks left before the gubernatorial primary on October 24, 2015. The ACLU has been asking the candidates for 5 months to announce their plans for ending mass incarceration in Louisiana. Yet, there has been no response so far. The current justice/ penal system wastes taxpayer money while doing little to improve public safety. Contact the candidates now and ask them “What will you do to fix our unsafe, unfair, and expensive prison system?” If you think you need more input and arguments to challenge those politicians, feel free to go to www.iippi.org to learn more.

Contact the candidates Eric Paul Orgeron, Scott Angelle, Beryl Billiot, Jay Dardenne, Cary Deaton, John Bel Edwards, Jeremy Odom, S. L. Simpson, and David Vitter via ACLU here: https://ssl.capwiz.com/aclu/mailapp/?alertid=67832656&type=SW&ms=eml_150917_aff_LA_mass_incarceration

This might interest you, too:

USA: Almost 50% of all prisoners worldwide are in the “Land of the Free”
Go figure: Louisiana alone is the prison state number one worldwide!

Jobs – a free ticket for nearly everything in politics

The forum of the Innocent in Prison Project International provides information on the issue prison industry here.:

Update (October 9, 2015):
Candiate Eric Paul Orgeron (eric@goprogov.com) has just posted a comment on this website.

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Oct 242014
 

Graphic: Ensuring equal justice under law versa the interlocking of different interests.

Graphic: Ensuring equal justice under law versa the interlocking of different interests.

On November 4th, 2014 is election day in Avoyelles Parish, the parish with Louisiana‘s strongest prison lobby. In January of 2014, Judge Jeansonne of the 12th Judicial District announced in an open letter to the residents published by the local newspaper that he would not seek reelection. He is retiring after 12 years (2 terms) in office, two close races against Kerry Spruill, an investigation for allegations of election fraud (2008), an investigation and decree by the Louisiana Board of Ethics with order verdict of guilty (2011), and at least one more confidential investigation (2013) behind closed doors by the Office of Special Counsel (Judiciary Commission of Louisiana).

Kerry Spruill and Mark Jeansonne both each spent more than US$ 100,000 for their last campaigns. While Spruill had the funds needed in his own pocket, Jeansonne had to take out a loan. Jeansonne’s re-election campaign of 2008 received contributions in excess of the contribution limit from family Knoll. (“Eddie” Knoll and Jeannette Theriot Knoll-the parents of Edward Knoll, Jr., Edmond Knoll, and Triston Knoll-prosecuted Vincent Simmons in 1977.)

Three candidates are running for judge now: Andrea Ducote Aymond, Barry Ray Laiche and Kerry Spruill.

Hundreds if not thousands of Avoyelleans contribute to the campaigns of the candidates in any way and, therefore, one might believe that an interest in justice and politics exists in this parish. On the other hand, this same parish is known internationally for the high profile case State of Louisiana vs. Vincent Simmons, because, if given the chance, the factually and actually innocent prisoner could prove he is not-guilty of the crime he was convicted of back in 1977. Yet, nobody of those who appear to be so dedicated to justice now break the taboo and demand either an evidentiary hearing or a retrial for Simmons.

If I called Avoyelles Parish my home and were entitled to vote, I would confront each candidate with the malicious prosecution and unfair trial. I would want to know from them, if they want to do something about this obvious miscarriage of justice, and if so, what they would do. I would run my own campaign so to speak, just to get long due answers. I would do anything in my power so that my fellow man‘s case cannot be hushed up any longer, neither in the local public, nor in court. I think, this is the least one should do as a responsible citizen and voter before one elects the powers that be into office.

But nothing to that effect happens – and therefore, nothing fundamental will change in close knit Avoyelles Parish. It is just the same old run for position, power and prestige as every six years. The candidates depend on the voters, and the voters in turn one day might depend on the elected judge’s decision. Simply donate to all of the candidates‘ campaigns (the more, the better up to US$ 2,500 per person and campaign) and chances are good that it will pay off for you and your family. A saying goes: „You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.“

What claims candidate Andrea Ducote Aymond? “Politics have no place in a court of law.“ How true and ethical! Unfortunately, the reality looks different. The problem is that state judges in the USA are in fact politicians, because they are elected into office by supporters and voters who one day might appear before them in their courtroom. There are many different interest groups an elected judge may feel obligated to „give something back“ to. In a system like that, it is impossible for Aymond (or any honest candidate) to „promise to decide each case fairly, based upon its own unique facts and circumstances, void of any outside pressure or influence.” But she does pretend exactly that in her announcement.

No single judge has ever shown true interest in the facts and circumstances of Simmons‘ case so far. They have not taken the time; they have no idea of the facts; and they do not care, because their personal interests are intertwined with political and economic interests of themselves and others. (This is explained in detail in the book „Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons: Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish,“ which is said to be available at the local library.) The Judge of the 12th Judicial District (Division A) in Louisiana is both a political judge and a judging politician. If a candidate wants his potential voters to believe something else, he is either naive or caught in his first lie.

No matter who becomes judge on November 4th, Vincent Simmons probably remains confined behind bars despite overwhelming evidence of his setup.

Candidates for Judgeship

Andrea Ducote Aymond: (Runoff election result: 5,513 votes/ 46%)
(She characterizes herself as the most compassionate candidate)

The life-long Avoyellean (Democrat) with deep family roots was born in 1978 and is younger than Vincent Simmons‘ nightmare in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. If elected, the carreer woman and mother of three boys will be the first female district judge in the history of Avoyelles Parish. Since 2005, Aymond has been District Attorney Charles Riddle’s Special Victim’s Prosecutor and is trained in protecting the interests of women, children and the elderly. In private practice, she is specialized in family law.

Aymond’s campaign office:
109 South Main Street, Marksville, La. 71351
Phone: (318) 253-6848
Email: andreaaymondforjudge@gmail.com

External Links:
http://www.aymondlawfirm.com/Attorney-Profile.html
http://andreaaymond.com/
https://www.facebook.com/andreaaymondforjudge
http://www.avoyellestoday.com/index.php/news/1087-aymond-candidate-for-district-judge-a-seat

Barry Ray Laiche: (He characterizes himself as the most courageous candidate)

Barry Ray Laiche, the father of three children, proud Republican and convinced opponent of gun control laws, obtained his Juris Doctorate in 1993, graduating cum laude. He has been practicing law for 21 years (personal injury, workers’ compensation, social security disability and maritime injury) and has handled litigation in all state and federal courts throughout Louisiana. Among others, he is a member of the Louisiana Association of Defense Counsel. Laiche is not as deeply rooted in the parish as his opponents and says that he does not accept contributions from lawyers, „because he wants to avoid a possible public perception of favoritism based on who contributed to his campaign and who didn’t“ reports the Avoyelles Today.

In criminal matters, Laiche’s priority is an unbiased jury. He says that if an unbiased jury cannot be guaranteed, „it is the judge’s duty to move the case (out of parish) to ensure that the defendant has a fair trial.” Laiche also distinguishes between non-violent offenders and offenders who do harm to society.

Barry Laiche’s Law Office:
237 S Washington St, Marksville, La. 71351
Phone: 318-253-4435
Email: blaiche@laicheattorney.com

External Links:
http://www.provosty.com/site11.php#laiche
http://www.martindale.com/Barry-Ray-Laiche/593144-lawyer.htm
https://www.facebook.com/barry.laiche
http://www.avoyellestoday.com/index.php/news/1562-judge-candidates-discuss-issues-in-debate

Kerry Spruill: (* NEW JUDGE! Runoff election result: 6,370 votes/ 54%)
(He characterizes himself as the most experienced candidate)

Kerry Spruill (Democrat) is the father of one son and lives in Vincent Simmons‘ home town Mansura. He was District Judge Michael Johnson’s elected successor from 1997 through 2002 after the latter had been removed from office by the justices of the Louisiana Supreme Court for judicial misconduct. Long term District Attorney Jerold Edward „Eddie“ Knoll (Vincent Simmons‘ prosecutor) and his oldest son Triston Knoll each contributed US$ 2,500 to Spruill’s campaign, which was a multiple of what other local lawyers supplied the candidate with. When Mark Jeansonne ran against incumbent Spruill in 2002 and won the election, Spruill then partnered with retired Avoyelles Parish District Attorney Eddie Knoll in private practice.

Spruill says that he was a good judge, and that none of his decisions were reversed on appeal. In his announcement of this year, Spruill promises, „My commitment is to bring our courts to the people of this parish with rulings that are founded in justice – not politics or personalities.“ He stresses that he „will render sound decisions after careful consideration of the evidence and law.“

Spruill’s campaign headquarters:
219 North Main St., Marksville, La. 73151
Phone: (318) 240-7504
Email: spruilllaw@bellsouth.net

External Links:
http://www.avoyellestoday.com/index.php/news/965-spruill-seeks-12th-judicial-district-seat
http://www.martindale.com/Kerry-L-Spruill/596466-lawyer.htm
https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008258311066
http://www.avoyellestoday.com/index.php/news/1562-judge-candidates-discuss-issues-in-debate

Other Elections
District Judge William J. „Billy“ Bennett (Division B) and District Attorney Charles A. „Charlie“ Riddle do not have opponents, and thus they automatically stay in office for another 6-year term.

My hope is that the people of Avoyelles Parish will be less indifferent in 2020, when new candidates are running for judge and district attorney.

Tip
Louisiana Attorney General James D. „Buddy“ Caldwell’s term expires on January 11, 2016. Caldwell is running for re-election and is challenged by former Congressman Jeff Landry. The election will be in October of 2015.
For inspiration what an attorney general could do, read New York State Attorney General Schneiderman’s letter (dated December 8, 2014) to Governor Cuomo. In the aftermath of several highlighted police shootings and no true-bills or indictments returned by grand juries, Schneiderman requests the power to prosecute the police when local district attorneys won’t.

Louisiana Governor (Republican) Piyush “Bobby” Jindal’s second term expires on January 11, 2016, too. Since he cannot be reelected in 2015 anyway, this might be a opportunity to appeal for pardon for Vincent Simmons. However, this would take much more than a simple petition. Vincent Simmons would need a great and convincing plan. Someone like a politician does not put his name on the line for anyone or anything he is not convinced of. Simmons would need a home, a full-time job with a promising future to support himself, health care, and professional help to guide him in all kind of situations after almost 40 years having been locked away from this world. Go to the “Success in the Community”-matrix here.

For election results and more, go to the Secretary of State Website.

This might be of interest as well:
http://vincentsimmons.iippi.org/2011/07/29/online-discussion-with-judge-mark-jeansonne/

http://vincentsimmons.iippi.org/2014/10/14/poll-retrial-hearing-or-prison/

http://vincentsimmons.iippi.org/2014/12/31/race-card-judge-jeansonnes-last-verbal-bangers/

http://vincentsimmons.iippi.org/2015/08/15/the-problem-with-mayors-courts/

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

External Link:

Spruill sworn in as district judge
Published: 05 January 2015
By Raymond L. Daye, Co-Editor
“Kerry Spruill, who served as judge from 1997-2003, was sworn in by by his friend, state Supreme Court Associate Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll of Marksvlle. In an hour-long ceremony, Spruill was praised by her husband and his former boss Eddie Knoll as well as others for his dedication to the law.”
http://avoyellestoday.com/index.php/news/1864-spruill-sworn-in-as-district-judge

Everybody seems to be happy. I am just missing the “We are family” in this article. Or am I wrong and Judge Spruill is going to surprise all of us, indeed?

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Oct 022014
 

In the small State of Louisiana (around 4.5 million inhabitants), not a week goes by without at least one rape (or murder or any other criminal) case being discussed in the media – mostly one-sided. One reads headlines as, for instance, „Girl/ woman brutally raped,“ rapist „arrested,“ „indicted,“ „convicted,“ „faces life sentence,“ or „sentenced to life.“ Each time, the full name (and often also a photo) of the suspect is disclosed from day one, although he has not been convicted yet. An arrest in the USA is sufficient to ruin your life forever, no matter whether or not you are guilty, indeed. Suddenly, you have a criminal record and the whole world can read about it on the internet.

On the other hand, there are serial rapists, who may never be caught. One of those was Dennis Rabbitt for almost three decades. Rabbitt, dubbed the “South Side Rapist”, is a white native of St. Louis, Missouri, the “good guy” from the neighborhood, but also a pathological, extraordinary sex offender. He began raping at the age of 17 in the early 1970s and had never been caught until February 28, 1999. He is also an excellent burglar. He realizes opportunities as e.g. open windows immediately. And he used to observe his potential female prey for some time before he eventually entered their homes to rape them at night. He wore socks over his hands and usually forced his victims to bath or shower after the assaults. The age of his more than 100 victims ranges from 14 through 82.

Rabbitt was not indicted, tried and convicted of any sexual assaults committed in Southern Nevada. The statute of limitations for those crimes had run out before he was arrested in New Mexico. For a small part of his crimes, he is serving 6 life sentences in Missouri and will not be eligible for parole for 90 years.

How many innocent men have been in prison for rapes people like Dennis N. Rabbitt did? What is the role of the media here? Some of the problems are:

  • Unfortunately, sensation sells better than quality.
  • The fatal side effect of sensationalism (the opposite of good journalism) is premature reporting.
  • Sensation increases the voyeurism of its consumers at a possibly innocent person’s expense. The press and the media do have an ethical responsibility to respect human rights.
  • Because many facts are not investigated, known or proven yet, a story at an early point of time provides room for gossip and speculation.
  • Law enforcement (prosecutors, sheriffs and judges are elected politicians in the USA!) is under pressure to quickly get someone convicted of the crime,which can cause mistakes, misconduct and corruption.
  • Freeloaders and red herrings might complicate a classic truth seeking investigation.

I would like to suggest that no name and no face is disclosed to the public until someone is found guilty in a court of law. In Germany (the country with the traditionally strictest privacy policy in Europe), names and photos of a prisoner are taboo even after a conviction, because so called (rehabilitated) “criminals” are to be back in society as soon as possible. Rehabilitation and successful integration base on fairness and the chance for a new beginning.

Inspirational source: State of Nevada v. Curtis Downing at http://cases.iippi.org/curtis-lundy-downing/.

On the IIPPI Forum, there is a thread about ethical journalism, especially when it comes to reporting on rape. Amazing how well it matches with the detailed book about Vincent Simmons’ case and the old one-sided stories in the press.

Also see “Giving Rise to Prejudice.”

Although no rape or murder case, this is a local example from Avoyelles Parish how irresponsible the revelation of full names of merely arrested people by the press is: “Man ‘wants life back’ after Grand Jury dismisses charges” by the Avoyelles Today.

This might interest you as well: USA: Almost 50% of all prisoners worldwide are in the “Land of the Free” . Louisiana alone is the prison “nation” number one.

How Germany does Prison – Americans on a mind-boggling incarceration road trip. (from June 16th through June 21st 2015)

Similar article:
Just one example of racial disparity in Louisiana

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Jan 192014
 


forest_k

Forest Hammond Martin showing his executive clemency document signed by Governor Edwin Edwards and with a golden seal.
Courtesy Forest Hammond Martin, Sr.

Book-Review

In April of 1973, Forest “Saint” Hammond Martin was a juvenile of 17 years in Baton Rouge, who was to graduate from Capitol High School. The African-American (1/4 Blackfoot Indian and 1/4 Jewish) was a local football star with a full athletic scholarship to Southern Illinois College (SIC) in his pocket. His future looked glorious – maybe too glorious. He had lost his mother at the age of 14, worked hard for his father’s janitorial business, was invited to many parties, had several girl-friends, had fathered a little baby-girl, had no criminal record, and yet, he was street smart with a tendency to overestimate himself.

Saint’s life changed dramatically on April 10, 1973 when he was present at an attempted armed robbery going wrong in a drugstore of his hometown. This is the story that Forest Hammond Martin tells in his autobiography “With Edwards in the Governor’s Mansion: From Angola to Free Man”, edited by Tom Aswell and published by the Pelican Publishing Company of Gretna, Louisiana, in 2012.

The author writes that the only reason why he was at the crime scene was that he wanted to convince the triggerman, whom he did not know, of not doing it before someone got hurt. Saint admits that he did make a grave mistake in that pharmacy though. The white murder victim was Billy Middleton, a 55 year old pharmacist. Middleton was friend with District Attorney Ossie Brown  and Judge Elmo E. Lear of East Baton Rouge Parish who both handled this criminal case.

The authorities did know that Saint was not the killer. They also had the true perpetrator in custody soon, who confessed. Nevertheless, at least four uniformed police officers with a shotgun and revolvers in their hands, two policemen with dogs and motorcycle cops came to the high school student’s house, put him in handcuffs telling his father that his son was not arrested but merely driven to the station to let Saint look at some pictures. They pretended that the handcuffs were needed by law for insurance reasons only. Therefore, no Miranda  warnings had been given to Saint and no defense attorney was called.

The detectives told Saint that they had arrested two other boys and that one of them – the shooter – implicated Saint in the crime. Nevertheless, the officers promised the youngster that he could go to college, if he gave a statement to them. In the statement itself however, Saint was to say that no promises had been made to him. Manipulations of any kind violate the Miranda doctrine. Saint got jailed and faced the danger of being raped for the first time in his life.

On May 18, 1973 one of the detectives testified in a hearing before District Judge Elmo E. Lear that they had arrested Saint at his home reading him the Miranda rights in front of his father and that they had not been aware of the fact that the arrestee had a scholarship to play football in college. They also denied their misconduct regarding the promise they had made to the football star.

As in Vincent Simmons’ case, the detectives lied to cover up their unethical conduct and illegal practices. The difference with Simmons’ case is that the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff Deputies have never been forced to testify under oath in court so far.

Saint’s public defender had just graduated from law school with either little or no experience in court. He had a conversation with Judge Lear behind closed doors.  Before Saint entered the room, he heard Lear say, “Now Warren, this conference never happened.”

Without his knowledge, Saint was to be the State’s star witness in the true perpetrator’s trial. When District Attorney Brown realized that his witness-to-be had no idea of the deal, the bargain burst before it was sealed. Yet, the sensation-seeking press reported anyway. Thanks to misinformation by professionals, Saint became the declared snitch throughout Louisiana’s jails and prisons. One of the unwritten laws behind bars is that “only a dead rat is a good rat.”

On October 15, 1973 Saint was arraigned for the murder charge in Judge Lear’s courtroom. His new lawyer advised that the accused had to plead guilty, if he did not want to receive a 99-year prison sentence for armed robbery, or capital punishment without the possibility of parole, probation, commutation or suspension of sentence for murder, in case Saint insisted to go to trial.

Once again Saint and his father were lied to. The defense attorney alleged that if Saint pled guilty, he would not serve his time at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola but at a trade school with sports program for first-offender youth at DeQuincy. That institution was just for short-timers though. There, Saint could earn his weekend-passes to come home. The lawyer also said that the judge would pardon Saint after two years. However, the attorney instructed the defendant that if the judge asked whether or not any promises had been made, Saint had to say ‘no.’

The sentence was “automatic,” as Judge Lear expressed it: Natural life at Angola. Yet, the tricky thing with the bargain was that because of the protecting “double jeopardy” rule, which allowed the State to prosecute Saint for one crime (either murder or armed robbery) only, there was no deal either way. Plus, Saint did not personally enter a plea of guilty. This means that he had never been convicted and, therefore, was entitled to be back in court. But no one in power whom his father was connected with actually wanted to stand up for Saint since the “case [was] too hot.”

butler_k

Butler Forest Hammond Martin at the Governor’s Mansion in 1979.
Courtesy Forest Hammond Martin, Sr.

Saint entered the prison as “fresh fish” (common name for imprisoned newbies) and immediately started a positive career. For his brighter mind, extraordinary typing skills and sporting talent, Saint made it within 5 years and 10 months from an ordinary field slave, to an inmate lawyer, light-heavy boxing champion (also fighting in Governor Edwards’  and Vincent Simmons’ home parish  for charity fundraisers at the high-schools in Simmesport  and Bunkie), and eventually he became one of the First Family’s butlers at the governor’s mansion.

Saint continued to fight his illegal confinement in the courts. In April of 1975, Judge Lear denied the prisoner’s first habeas corpus petition in the 19thJudicial District Court. On August 14, 1978 and on September 6, 1978 there were two evidentiary hearings before Magistrate Judge Frank J. Polozola in the United States District Court, Middle District of Louisiana. Polozola was forced by the evidence to admit, “We don’t have a conviction here.”

At that time, Saint’s former defense attorney was Assistant District Attorney for the East Baton Rouge Parish. The same change of sides happened in Vincent Simmons’ case. Michael Kelly, one of his two public defense attorneys also became an Assistant of District Attorney “Eddie” Knoll. Nowadays, Kelly is the First Assistant District Attorney in Avoyelles Parish.

Magistrate Judge Polozola ate dinner at the governor’s mansion to discuss this criminal case with Edwin Edwards and to ask him not to pardon Saint. Governor Edwards promptly stated that no one should be imprisoned without a conviction. District Attorney Ossie Brown threatened Edwards with massive public protest, if Saint stayed in the mansion instead of in Angola. Magistrate Judge Polozola eventually denied Saint’s motion after 15 months and Governor Edwards pardoned Saint on January 16, 1980 despite all odds. In 2000, Polozola would be the judge in Governor Edwards’ federal racketeering trial and sentence him to 10 years in prison.

When Forest Hammond Martin was a free man again, he fought a couple of months for Sugar Ray Leonard’s Boxing gym in Maryland. Then he worked successfully for the Baton Rouge Public Defender Office and had his own janitorial businesses and employees in Baton Rouge and Alexandria. Now, Saint is a boxing instructor, educates at-risk-youth, and is the dean of the Alexandria branch of the Institute of Divine Metaphysical Research. At his relatively young age, he is the father of six, grandfather and even great-grandfather.

This book paints (and illustrates through photos) a lot of vivid scenes in the complex life of a prisoner that average people out here cannot know. The criminal justice and penal systems are a cosmos of their own. The two books “With Edwards in the Governor’s Mansion – From Angola to Free Man” and “Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons: Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish” are true stories far beyond clichés. They complement each other. Both are witnesses of more or less the same era, the same places, the same top official, the same culture, and the same system.  Customers who viewed this item also viewed the other” one might encourage interested readers in order to expand the bigger picture. These books are especially recommended to residents and voters in Louisiana – the state with the highest incarceration rate in the USA, the top-prison nation worldwide for many, many years.

Note: In spring of 2015, Forest Hammond Martin publicly joined the party that wants to keep Vincent Simmons in prison at all costs. He changed his vote on the poll of the book’s Facebook page from “Grant Vincent Simmons a hearing” to “Keep Vincent Simmons in prison!” without trying to prove Simmons’ guilt as I ask opponents to do.

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Nov 052013
 

Twelve Years a Slave – And Plantation Life in the Antebellum South  is a narrative by Solomon Northup as told to David Wilson. It was published in 1853. As Harriet Beacher Stove’s novel, Uncle Ben’s Cabin (1852) ,Northup’s true story book became a bestseller as well.

Solomon Northup was a married African-American man and father, who was born free in Saratoga Springs, New York, but kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841, sold into slavery, and kept in bondage on major plantations in Louisiana for twelve years – nine of those in Avoyelles Parish (Vincent Simmons’ home parish). Avoyelles judge Ralph Cushman eventually granted Northup’s freedom.

More than 100 years later, Dr. Sue Eakin, a historian, journalist and professor from Bunkie in Avoyelles Parish, re-discovered the book while researching Louisiana’s history. She co-edited the 1853 slave diary by Northup. The LSU Press published it in 1968.   

Audio Book

A 2013 British-American drama film on the story starring among others Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup,  Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps (a cruel plantation owner) and Brad Pitt as Samuel Bass (a Canadian carpenter who is a key player in Northup’s liberation) and directed by Steve McQueen was released by Fox Searchlight Pictures on October 18, 2013. The locations, where the movie was filmed, were in Jefferson Parish and in New Orleans.

Press Conference in Toronto, Canada

The press conference in Toronto, Canada, began with the question if the movie was about race. In response, Director McQueen rolled his eyes and stressed that he had wanted to make a film about slavery since he (and many others who contributed to this project) was a part of that history. It is not just about race. It is beyond that. He made clear that race was just involved – it was just a part of it.

Protagonist Ejiofor expressed it simply: It is about human dignity. The leading actors of 12 Years A Slave agreed that the story is very complex. It is beyond clichés. One cannot judge in black and white. It is about love and pain. Every one of the audience probably can identify with something or someone.

Basically, there is no difference between being a slave (Solomon Northup), who was born free, then kidnapped and sold into slavery, and being a prisoner (Vincent Simmons) for a crime he did not commit. Both the slave and the prisoner have illegally lost their freedom and are victims of  a system that is terribly manipulated by money interests. Slavery is the past – prison industry is the present.

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Read about the first Northup Freedom Fest (November 2, 2014) in Marksville at http://vincentsimmons.iippi.org/2014/10/30/freedom-fest/

This article of the local Avoyelles Today might interest the historian or tourist in you:
Renovated Epps House dedicated at LSU-A

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Sep 092013
 

PRESS RELEASE

August 29th, 2013
Posted by The Department Of Justice

This post is courtesy of Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Jocelyn Samuels

The Civil Rights Division is acutely aware of the impact that the criminal justice system has on communities of color. As we reflect on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, it remains an inescapable fact that disparities at nearly every stage of the criminal process keep too many African Americans, Latinos and other minorities in poverty and deny them the opportunities that so many in the civil rights movement fought to achieve.

The consequences of these inequities are perhaps greatest for America’s youth. The adverse effects of early interaction with the juvenile or criminal justice systems can be permanent—often, they deprive those caught up in the system of opportunities for educational advancement, employment, access to housing and even the right to vote.

Under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, the Justice Department’s commitment to ensuring equal justice and equal opportunity for America’s youngest generation—by, among other things, dismantling the school to prison pipeline and defending the constitutional rights of those in the juvenile justice system—has never been stronger.

To read more, click here: http://blogs.justice.gov/main/archives/3277

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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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Mar 292013
 

One of the indirect but important topics of the book “Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons – Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish” is the scanty health system in the USA – especially for the poor, of course. The wealthy can afford anything anytime anywhere. At the first sight, the health system has nothing to do with the criminal justice system, but it does – indirectly. Example: contraception. Do American minors (age 14 – 18 or 20) have access to “the pill” for free as those in Germany, for instance? What do desperate underage pregnant girls who cannot afford an abortion or are afraid of telling their parents? Sometimes, claiming they were raped seems to be a way out of the “embarrassing” and difficult situation. However, that is usually where the true nightmare begins for all parties: the alleged rape victim and the falsely accused.

Current District Attorney of Avoyelles Parish (Louisiana) and former state legislator, Charles A. Riddle, speaks up for medicaid expansion and healthcare in this YouTube video of March 21, 2013, uploaded by Louisiana Forward.

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