French Quarter tourists sought mercy for their attackers during sentencing

Left to right: Paul, Simmons, Piper, Pogozelski (Source: OPSO)
Left to right: Paul, Simmons, Piper, Pogozelski (Source: OPSO)

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Video of a brutal robbery in the French Quarter gained national attention last June. The victims were from Boston, and were in town for a church convention.

"They were out in the French Quarter being tourists, and they were attacked by these four young men. The next morning, we found out in church that it had happened," Leslie Runnels said.

The attack left one victim, Timothy Byrne, in critical condition. One of the robbers put the other victim, James Curran, in a choke hold while they went through his pockets.

Police arrested four young men. Both victims pleaded for leniency for their attackers.

"They did not want them to serve long prison sentences. The systems have been working on young black men for a long time, and they've been funneled through the system. We want to break the system," Runnels said.

Leslie Runnels is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association, the church that held the convention the victims were attending last year. She said they were advocating for something called restorative justice.

"It would be to have a circle where the victims can come together with the defendants and talk about what happened. Not just about what happened, but how did it happen? What happened in their lives that got them to this point where what they did was rob somebody in the French Quarter?" Runnels said.

The victims wrote letters to the district attorney and also to Judge Camile Buras. Timothy Byrne, the severely injured victim wrote, "This would enable us - the victims - to try a different approach and perhaps achieve a different outcome." He also stated that he wanted to meet with his attackers.

Judge Buras told the court she took the letters into consideration when she sentenced the four defendants.

Dejuan Paul, who admitted to punching Byrne from behind, was sentenced to 15 years in DOC custody, with seven years suspended. Rashaad Piper was sentenced to 15 years in DOC custody with 10 years suspended. Nicholas Pogozelski was sentenced to 15 years DOC with 10 years suspended, and Joshua Simmons received a three-year sentence.

"I understand that it's lenient in Judge Buras' terms, but for the lives of these four young men, who were 18, 19, 20 and 21, a three- to five-year sentence is a large part of their youth, so it seems very harsh," Runnels said.

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