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the prosecutor responds

There are many reasons why we have a spiraling murder rate in the City of New Orleans. One of the most important reasons is the lack of fear among violent criminals. Violent criminals today have no fear that witnesses will come forward to testify against them. Over a number of years, it has become understood that potential witnesses run the risk of becoming murder victims themselves if they come forward.

For many witnesses, there is also the fear that they will be subjected to emotional and psychological abuse at the hands of determined defense attorneys.

In the case of Gregory Bright and Earl Truvia, you have become parties to the abuse of the innocent to protect the guilty ("Innocence Without Delay," May 20). You have given further encouragement to criminals that they, not the victims of their crimes or the witnesses who show the courage to testify, are some sort of heroic figures.

In the case of Mr. Bright and Mr. Truvia, justice prevailed more than 20 years ago when they were convicted of murder. An injustice could occur if they are released from prison due to the efforts of the so-called "Innocence Project."

You say that "hearings revealed deception by the only eyewitness." This is a lie. I prosecuted that case. I was not called as a witness in the hearing that resulted in the granting of a new trial. When I was contacted by the daily newspaper after the fact, the reporter wanted to know if I recalled this case from more than 25 years ago. Without looking at any documents, I recounted the details of the case as if it had been tried last week.

When I was told that the "Innocence Project" had brought in experts to testify that the young woman who was the only eyewitness could not have seen the murder from the window of her apartment, I was incredulous. When I encountered the judge who had granted the new trial, I asked him why. He shocked me by saying that he didn't realize that I was the prosecutor on this case. Considering that I have known him for 30 years, that comment said a lot about how closely he had read the transcript.

When he said that the "Innocence Project" had proven that the eyewitness could not have seen the defendants execute the 16-year-old victim from the window of the apartment, I said to him the same as I say to you: "Did you bother to read the transcript of the eyewitness' testimony?" He had not, and -- I suspect -- you did not.

The young lady who testified was the only witness but, unlike your characterization of her, she never said that she saw the shooting of the victim. She specifically said, under oath, that from her window she could not see the actual murder. What kept the jury out all of 10 minutes was the fact that Mr. Bright and Mr. Truvia, being cold-blooded killers, broke into the young lady's apartment the next night, held a loaded gun to her child's head, and told her that if she went to the police and told them that she saw them murder the victim, they would be back to kill her child.

It also didn't help these two murderers that the mother of the victim testified that while they barely knew her son, they appeared at his funeral and made a big show of passing a hat to raise money for flowers for the grave. The hat that they passed around was identical to the hat that the young victim was wearing the night of his murder. The hat was not recovered at the scene of the murder.

The predominantly black jury had the benefit of observing the defendants' demeanor in the court room; when the young woman testified, both defendants slumped in their chairs, stared at the floor and refused to look at the witness.

I know that as the years have passed the lone eyewitness has suffered a difficult life. But, unlike the ridiculous claims that she was an anxious witness who testified against these two men so she could get a new apartment from the Housing Authority, the young woman I encountered was afraid to testify. She feared retaliation and literally begged me not to require her to testify against these murderers. Considering the character assassination she has endured and the life-changing experience of this case, is it any wonder that others are even more reluctant to become witnesses against violent criminals?

More than 25 years ago, I made a promise to the young lady who risked her life and her child's life to testify against these brutal murderers. I promised her that if this case ever came back to court that I would be there with her to protect her from those who would seek to destroy her.

I intend to keep my promise.
--Henry P. Julien Jr.

Gambit Weekly responds:

According to hearing transcripts, Henry Julien Jr. was called as a witness and testified in Earl Truvia's hearing on Sept. 12, 2002.

Among other things, the state's eyewitness, Sheila Caston, lied about her name and age. The judgment for a new trial noted that "the State's presentation of a sole eyewitness using a false name and age was a violation of the defendant's right to confrontation and right to a fair trial."

€ In trial testimony given on July 29, 1976, the victim's mother stated that Truvia's name is in her funeral guestbook but that she did not remember seeing him at the funeral, nor did she recall him taking a collection for flowers.

According to the 2002 rulings, upheld by the Louisiana Supreme Court, Bright's and Truvia's convictions were ultimately overturned because the prosecution suppressed crucial information, including the eyewitness' true identity and police reports that showed that the police were at first pursuing two other suspects. Those suspects were mentioned by several witnesses who had also come forward but then were ignored when Caston came forward. Which witnesses should be protected?

The appropriate place to argue these points is in a courtroom -- which is why Gambit Weekly urged action from the justice system. When there is evidence of possible innocence, we believe that that system should, without delay, step forward and examine the evidence. Swift justice in these cases helps everyone. If the state's eyewitness was telling the truth, these two men should be re-convicted quickly. If not, the two men who are set free will not be criminals but rather innocent men who have now served 27 years in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

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