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Caddo District Lawyer Visits Some Previous Break up Jury Instances And Affords Affords – NOLA.com

In front of the Shreveport courthouse rests a Confederate memorial, covered by a box and still waiting to be evacuated four years after the Caddo community leaders voted 7-5 to be “an object of division and a painful reminder of racial inequalities ”.

Many of these injustices played out inside the courthouse, in convictions obtained under a Jim Crow-era jury law that sent black defendants away far more often than white ones, and stood outside for more than a century as the memorial stood.

Recently, however, the office of Caddo District Attorney James Stewart began offering reduced sentences to some of the state prisoners convicted years ago under the now defunct Louisiana Jury Act.

Stewart is the second district attorney in the state after Orleans Parish DA Jason Williams to volunteer against older split-jury verdicts and close new deals, attorneys said. Both Williams and Stewart are black, and both are the successors of white district attorneys whose justice standards were far more punitive.

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Suzanne Ellis, who heads the Appeals Department at Stewart’s office, declined to provide details.

“This office has identified a number of cases where their current legal status warrants a fair trial,” Ellis said in an email regarding the split judgment cases. “In some of these cases, offers were extended to bring them to a solution.”

Claude-Michael Comeau, an attorney for the New Orleans-based Promise of Justice initiative, said Stewart’s office has reviewed a dozen cases to date and made six new offers to clients convicted by split juries years ago. Five of the six are black.

The offers are open to members of a group of at least 103 defendants convicted by split juries in Caddo Parish and about 1,500 across the state, say attorneys, who were denied discharge this year when the U.S. Supreme Court declined retroactively ban its 2020 ban on divided judgments.

The law allowed only 10 out of 12 jurors to be convicted of felony before Louisiana voters excluded them from future crimes three years ago, and the US Supreme Court followed suit in April last year.

Stewart’s office has so far focused on defendants, all found guilty by split juries and then convicted as common offenders – a prosecutor’s choice that can increase prison sentences exponentially.

One of them, Derek Hayes, appears ready to be released soon, to the delight of his wife and family. Hayes, now 53 years old, has been sentenced to 13 years of life imprisonment as a repeat offender since being convicted in 2008 for a felon in possession of a firearm.

Officials arrived at his home in Shreveport to investigate a narcotics complaint, police said when a woman waved money and asked about drugs. A search found a gun between the mattresses in the bedroom.

Hayes said the gun was his brother’s but admitted he knew it was there, police said. The brother testified that he gave the gun to Hayes’ wife, Wondalin Hayes, to ease her fears while her husband was playing poker in casinos.

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Playing cards was among several moneymakers Hayes used, including chess and the drug trade, family members said.

“He tried to do everything. He took care. We did it, ”said Wondalin Hayes over the years leading up to his conviction. “He’s just a very familiar person … He gives a lot.”

A jury found in an 11-1 vote that Hayes was guilty of possession of the gun. Prosecutors then cited two previous convictions for a simple break-in and a judge sentenced Hayes to life imprisonment without parole, saying he thought it was an exaggeration but his hands were tied. An appeals court agreed on the latter point.

“He never thought that they would take his life,” said his sister Deborah Hayes. “He’s never been violent. He’s never been in jail because he didn’t hurt anyone or anything like that. “

Wondalin Hayes said Derek Hayes was previously diagnosed with cancer and will need medical care after he is released. Comeau, the attorney, said the case was “an example of how harsh sentencing can be” under common criminal law.

“It just seems like a really bad case of over-aggressive law enforcement,” he said.

Stewart is a retired appellate judge who took over the office of a prosecutor under the direction of the controversial Dale Cox, whose office supplied Louisiana’s death row with an overwhelming proportion of its residents. It found that Cox prosecutors removed blacks in jury selection at far higher rates than white jurors. Cox turned down re-election in 2015.

Comeau said the offers to the six defendants would mean immediate release for some, but would give others more time to serve.

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Among the six on offer are Tyrone Gipson, who is serving a 35-year maximum sentence as a common offender after being convicted of drug possession for cocaine, MDMA, and hydrocodone in 2007; and Michael Ellis, who got 22 years for the possession with the intention of distributing cocaine.

Bobby Byrd, the only white defendant among the six, doesn’t think much of the 25-year offer he received that would replace a life sentence as a common offender. In 2013, an 11: 1 jury convicted Byrd of evacuating an officer, a crime that normally carries a maximum sentence of two years.

Prosecutors used his previous drug convictions and tried to arrest him with a simple battery.

Byrd, 48, said Friday that the offer he’s received – just 25 years old – won’t be of much use to him given his troubled health.

“Personally, I think the prosecutor is doing nothing to correct an injustice done to one of us, he’s just trying to look like he’s amending a wrong,” wrote Byrd.

“The Supreme Court said a non-unanimous verdict wasn’t a verdict at all, so how am I still here, you know?”

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