NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The trial for three St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s deputies accused in the death of an inmate in 2014 is on hold while the judge determines how the case should proceed after investigators said one of the defendants tried to kill himself last week.
Andre Dominick, a former Captain with the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's office, is in the intensive care unit after deputies say he shot himself Thursday night, just hours after he was in the defendant's chair in federal court.
Dominick and two other former deputies, Deborah Becnel and Lisa Vacarella, are accused in the death of Nimali Henry, 19, in 2014.
Henry, who had a rare blood disorder, was found dead in an isolation cell in the St. Bernard Parish Jail ten days after she was arrested for a domestic dispute.
Federal prosecutors charged Dominick, Becnel, and Vacarella with deprivation of rights for failing to provide Henry with proper medical care while she was in jail.
Prosecutors were in the middle of presenting their case last week when investigators say Dominick shot himself.
His attorney, Paul Fleming, said in court that he visited Dominick in the hospital on Saturday and told the judge he had an open chest wound and breathing tubes. Fleming said he believed Dominick would recover, though he was still in the ICU, he said he acknowledged him, but could not communicate. Fleming said, Dominick's daughter told him her father was heading into his fifth surgery Tuesday morning.
Criminal defense attorney Bobby Hjortsberg said the alleged attempted suicide could put the case in jeopardy and could potential force the judge to declare a mistrial.
“So it’s a difficult situation for both sides really, the judge could just declare a mistrial and tell them they have to start the entire trial over. It’s possible, it’s within the judge’s discretion to declare a mistrial for just that defendant and then have the other two defendants proceed with the case,” Hjortsberg said. “I think it would be really difficult to then go forward with the other two defendants, it’s questionable whether the jury would find out, I doubt they’re sequestered. I know they’re not supposed to read the news, but you worry, maybe they did find out, even if you try to hold it from them, it’s just a very big risk and it’s very possible that if the judge were to go forward with just two defendants, it very well could be a reversible error and they would have to do it over anyway.”
U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle asked prosecutors and defense attorneys to prepare a brief on how they’d like to proceed and file it by the end of the day Tuesday. Judge Lemelle asked the attorneys to return Wednesday for a hearing on how to proceed and alluded to the possibility of having an additional hearing for jurors to determine their exposure to what happened with Dominick.
Judge Lemelle said he would have jurors contact the court by 2 p.m. Wednesday afternoon for instructions on how to proceed.