U.S. justices weigh another case involving claims of prosecutorial misconduct in New Orleans

Date: Jun 16, 2011

U.S. justices weigh another case involving claims of prosecutorial misconduct in New Orleans

The U.S. Supreme Court will take a look at yet another case in which Orleans Parish prosecutors are accused of withholding key evidence to win a murder conviction.

The high court this week agreed to hear the case of Juan Smith, who was convicted by District Attorney Harry Connick's office on five counts of first-degree murder in a 1995 rampage inside a home on North Roman Street.

Evidence from the allegedly tainted trial also helped prosecutors convict Smith in a separate trio of murders a month earlier, including the killing of former Saints football player Bennie Thompson's ex-wife and child. That case landed Smith on death row.

Gary Clements, director of the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana, which will represent Smith at oral arguments expected this fall, said the court this session has accepted only one in 1,100 similar appeals by indigent criminal defendants.

It's the second recent case the Supreme Court has taken up in which Orleans Parish prosecutors were accused of violating a requirement under Brady v. Maryland to give the defense all exculpatory evidence.

In an ideologically divided, 5-4 opinion in March, the court sided with the city, rejecting a $14 million judgment for former death row inmate John Thompson. The issue in the that case was not whether the DA's office could be held liable for a few prosecutors admittedly hiding blood evidence favorable to Thompson in an armed robbery case before his 1984 trial for the murder of hotel executive Ray Liuzza.

The Supreme Court majority found that Thompson needed to show a pattern of prosecutors ignoring or thumbing their noses at Brady requirements, but failed to do so. The dissent was caustic, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg calling the failures by prosecutors in the Thompson case "neither isolated nor atypical" of the office at the time of Thompson's trial.

"Something's going on there," said Clements of the Supreme Court's renewed interest with the Smith case. "What makes it stand out is they are looking at the allegations that we have made that the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office has once again failed to turn over important evidence that supports the defendant."

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