Court reviews cops' convictions in deadly beating - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Court reviews cops' convictions in deadly beating

Updated:

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Two former New Orleans police officers urged a federal appeals court Tuesday to throw out their convictions and sentences stemming from the fatal beating of a 48-year-old handyman.

A three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals didn't indicate when it would rule after hearing arguments in the case against Melvin Williams and Matthew Dean Moore.

Raymond Robair died after Williams kicked and beat him with a baton during a July 2005 encounter in the city's Treme neighborhood. Prosecutors said Williams broke four of Robair's ribs and crushed his spleen before the officers drove him to a hospital, where he died of massive internal bleeding.

Williams was sentenced to more than 21 years in prison for violating Robair's constitutional rights. His attorney, Reagan Wynn, argued there wasn't sufficient evidence to prove Williams inflicted Robair's fatal injuries.

Wynn also argued that U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon erred in sentencing Williams based on a finding he committed voluntary manslaughter. Wynn said the trial evidence at most supported a finding of involuntary manslaughter.

"You had two officers engaged in a lawful act," Wynn said. "They are trying to lawfully detain Robair, and Robair resisted."

Moore was sentenced to more than five years in prison for submitting a false report and lying to the FBI.

Williams denied kicking or hitting Robair, claiming he slipped and fell on a curb as the officers approached. Jurors, however, heard from residents who said they witnessed the beating.

Deborah Pearce, one of Williams' attorneys, said those "incredible" eyewitness accounts conflicted with each other and with the medical evidence in the case.

"None of them tell the same story," she said.

Justice Department attorney Thomas Chandler said eyewitnesses clearly saw Williams kick Robair in the ribs while he was on the ground.

"No witness corroborates the defendants' version of events apart from their own testimony," Chandler said.

Judge Edith Jones noted that the officers allegedly told hospital staff they found Robair under a bridge.

"He was certainly not under a bridge," Jones said. "I think there's plenty to infer that they beat him or at least manhandled him."

The officers' attorneys have tried to shift the blame for Robair's death to doctors who treated him for a heart attack for about 90 minutes before they discovered his spleen had ruptured. They say hospital records show Robair arrived at Charity Hospital with a single fractured rib and wasn't bleeding internally.

Dr. Kris Sperry, a pathologist hired by a lawyer for Robair's family, concluded Robair had been kicked and beaten with the force equivalent to a high-speed car crash.

Pearce said Robair would have been dead within 30 minutes of being kicked by Williams if his spleen was ruptured as badly as Sperry said it had. Instead, Robair died roughly four hours after he arrived at the hospital.

Jones said that discrepancy is "the most confusing part of the case for me."

"Everything is in your favor here, but this part doesn't make sense to me," she told Chandler, the Justice Department attorney.

Moore was a rookie and Williams, a 16-year department veteran, was his training officer at the time of the deadly encounter.

The case is one of several Justice Department probes of alleged misconduct by New Orleans police officers. Of the 20 current or former officers who were charged in the probes, only Williams and Moore were prosecuted for actions that occurred before Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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