New Danziger trial in the hands of federal appeals panel

New Danziger trial in the hands of federal appeals panel

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A three-judge federal panel is now weighing arguments in an effort to get guilty verdicts against five former New Orleans police officers reinstated.

The officers were convicted on various charges in the slaying of two unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge after Katrina. For nearly 10 years, the Madison family has sought justice in the death of Ronald Madison, who was one of them.

"I'm going to let them give their opinion first before I blast them," said Dr. Romell Madison as he walked out of court.

The family returned Wednesday for the latest legal battle, this time before the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, after a federal trial judge threw out the convictions against five officers because of Internet posts by federal prosecutors.

"I think there were a thousand more blogs supporting police than against them," Madison said.

The U.S. Justice Department asked for the verdicts to be reinstated, saying there's no evidence that the trial's outcome was tainted by the posts by former federal prosecutors Sal Perricone and Jan Mann, and a U.S. Justice Department employee named Karla Dobinski. Ironically, Dobinski, was sent down from Washington to ensure the integrity of the prosecution.

"No you can never predict, but clearly the court is focusing on issues of concern, which was government behavior throughout the trial," said Tim Meche, an attorney for defendant Steve Villavasso.

Some courtroom observers felt the three-judge panel was especially harsh on DOJ attorneys. The judges openly questioned whether prosecutors violated the defendants' civil rights.

"Ironically, my client, Anthony Villavasso, said to me, 'Mr. Tim, what they're doing to us is what they're accusing me of doing,' and clearly that's what occurred in this case," Meche said.

This has been a lengthy ordeal for victims' families.

After Katrina, the Orleans DA's office failed to indict the officers, then the family wrote a letter to the U.S.Justice Department seeking a new investigation. That led to a lengthy federal trial and five guilty verdicts that were reversed, when Judge Kurt Englehardt learned of the web posts.

They and others will now await the appeals court's ruling. After an hour's worth of argument, the justices took the case under advisement, meaning they will rule later.

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