NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Three men accused of killing an armored truck guard in 2013 will be put to death if they're convicted. It comes after federal prosecutors filed notices earlier today indicating they're looking for capital punishment in the cases.
Attorneys and law professors are calling it unusual. The Federal Government could sentence three defendants to death.
“Something that sort of jumps off the page," says former U.S. Attorney Harry Rosenberg. “There are so few cases around the entire country where the death penalty is actually approved. This is one of the first new death penalty authorizations in New Orleans in many years."
But it was for LilBear George, Chukwudi Ofomata and Curtis Johnson Jr. They're three of six defendants charged in the case of a Loomis truck guard ambushed and killed outside a bank.
It happened December 13, 2013 at the Chase Bank at Carrollton Avenue and Claiborne Avenue in broad daylight.
Investigators say the group shot and killed Hector Trochez as he headed into the bank. He died at the scene and the crew got away with cash.
The NOPD and the FBI's Violent Crimes Unit delved in to the case and in November 2017 they indicted George, Ofomata and Johnson as well as Jeremy Esteves, Robery Brumfield III and Jasmine Theophile.
They're facing federal charges for violating the Hobbs Act.
“Basically, interfering with interstate commerce. They were taking money from an armed guard. They were interfering with money that was being deposited with the federal bank. But it’s the interstate commerce factor that allows the government to get jurisdiction in this case,” explained Rosenberg.
Five of the defendants face charges in connection with Trochez's death and three could be executed if convicted.
“During the two years Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been in office, he’s only approved two cases and in this one criminal case, there’s been an approval of three death penalty cases.”
Rosenberg says the decision to pursue a federal death penalty case is a lengthy process.
It goes through multiple steps including a review committe and the Department of Justice before getting final approval form the attorney general.
The government must explain why there are extenuating circumstances to warrant execution.
The U.S. Attorney or Assistant Attorney must recommend it. Then the case goes to a review committee and the Department of Justice before final approval.
“For decades, the federal governement did not pursue, wasn’t authorized to pursue the death penalty for very many crimes other than treason or crimes against the United States,” says Loyola University Law Professor Dane Ciolino.
“The death penalty act really just started again in 1988 and since then, there have only been circle scores of cases,” says Rosenberg.
Ciolino says death penalty approvals have slowed down dramatically during the Obama administration. He and others wonder if that’s about to change.
"It may be the Trump administration is deciding to put more resources into death cases," says Ciolino.
“I think a lot of people are going to be looking at that to see if it’s a sign Attorney General Sessions will be seeking the death penalty in many more cases, like this one,” says Rosenberg.
In a statement, the family of Hector Trochez said, in part, “we have, from the beginning, hoped for the death penalty and justice for Hector. We are happy to hear [Friday’s] news.”
The defendants are set to go to trial January 19. Their next court appearance is September 9.