Legal analyst, others discuss Danziger case finality

Danziger case ends with plea deals, new sentences

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - It was a case that garnered national headlines and had veteran NOPD officers defending against accusations they shot unarmed citizens in the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina drowned the city.

On Wednesday, five now-former officers charged in the case stood before a judge and pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the shootings on the Danziger Bridge and the subsequent cover-up.

"I finally got what I wanted, someone to confess. I did it, I did it," said Cheryl Johnson, mother of 17-year-old James Brissette, who was killed in the bridge shooting.

Ronald Madison, 40 and mentally challenged, was also shot to death. His brother, Lance, was also on the bridge and was arrested, but later released.

"I pray to God that I will be able to recover from what has happened to me, my brother Ronald, my family," Madison said after the guilty pleas.

In all, six unarmed citizens were shot on September 4, 2005 during the bridge gunfire.

Inside the federal courthouse, the former NOPD cops who had been convicted years earlier accepted plea deals.

"No, it doesn't bring closure, but as I've told them before, I may not be satisfied, but I can accept it," said Dr. Romell Madison, who is a brother of Ronald and Lance Madison.

All of the former cops got less prison time than what was doled out after their convictions in 2011. Robert Faulcon had a 65 year sentence, the plea deal cut it to 12 years.  Both Robert Gisevius and Kenneth Bowen's former 40 year sentences were trimmed to 10 years. Anthony Villavaso got seven years as part of the plea deal; he previously received 38 years. And Arthur Kaufman received a six year prison term initially for covering up the shootings, but as part of his guilty plea he received three years.

There was an apology in court.

"Mr. Gisevius asked me to express his sympathies for their loss, you know, Mr. Gisevius was a position that day to do what he believed was necessary to do, and there were some horrible losses because of it," said Defense Attorney Eric Hessler.

U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite held a press conference with some family members of the victims at his side.

"While this is certainly an imperfect resolution, today's proceedings ensures that these five defendants will held accountable for their criminal actions," said Polite.

"Those guys were going to probably die, or get out as very old men, now they can see the light of the end of the tunnel," said FOX 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti.

The officers' earlier convictions and prison sentences were overturned in 2013 due to revelations that top federal prosecutors under then U.S. Attorney Jim Letten used aliases to make caustic online rants about cases and defendants.

"The underlying misconduct at issue in this case was unacceptable," Polite said of the scandal.

Raspanti thinks that helped to get prosecutors to a point of plea talks as the former officers had been granted new trials.

"I think part of it could also be that the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Justice Department did not want to go through the embarrassment and the rehashing of why this thing is being tried again and that was prosecutorial misconduct by former members of the U.S. Attorney's Office," said Raspanti.

And now a case that had been called a dark chapter is finally over.

"The case is put to bed," said Defense Attorney Mike Fawer.

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