NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A man already serving a life sentence for a 2008 New Orleans murder lost a bid Thursday to have related federal racketeering charges dismissed - an effort that led to two journalists being called to testify under oath.
Attorneys for Telly Hankton and five federal co-defendants had argued that their federal charges should be dismissed because FBI agents divulged secret grand jury information to journalists John Simerman and Gordon Russell in an October 2012 meeting. The journalists later published a story for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, saying prosecutors were poised to indict Hankton and others.
The indictment - alleging multiple killings, assaults, drug trafficking and gun law violations - came days later.
Simerman and Russell, who now work for The New Orleans Advocate, unsuccessfully fought defense subpoenas in a case that involved First Amendment press freedom issues and defendants' rights to due process.
With U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman sharply narrowing the scope of questioning, they testified under court order this week that the agents were not their sources of information about the indictment.
Neither was made to identify confidential sources.
The two FBI agents and their former supervisor also testified.
Feldman ruled against Hankton and his co-defendants hours after the hearing, which spanned two days, ended Thursday.
"There is simply no indication, beyond speculation, that the agents' statements substantially influenced the grand jury's decisions to indict those defendants mentioned in the article, or those others not mentioned," Feldman wrote.
Telly Hankton is already serving a life sentence on a state murder conviction for the 2008 killing of Darnell Stewart. The complex federal indictment notes Stewart's death and ties Hankton to one other killing. It could lead, his attorneys say, to a federal death sentence.
The indictment also says that two of Hankton's co-defendants were involved in two other killings.