No new trial for ex-cop’s convicted partner in 1995 killings

March 13, 2018

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana’s highest court has again refused to order a new trial for a man convicted of joining a New Orleans police officer in the killing of her fellow officer and two other people during a bloody 1995 robbery.

Rogers LaCaze has long denied taking part in the killings that landed former officer Antoinette Frank on Louisiana’s death row. In October, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Louisiana’s Supreme Court to take another look at the case.

At issue was whether the state judge who tried the LaCaze case should have recused himself.

LaCaze’s attorneys contend that state District Judge Frank Marullo presided over the trial despite an appearance of possible impropriety: Months before the killings, Antoinette Frank had obtained a handgun from the police evidence room, using a release purportedly signed by Marullo, who told an investigator he never signed it and that it was possibly forged. Court records show authorities believe the weapon may have been used in the restaurant killings, although that is not certain.

Attorneys for LaCaze say Marullo should have recused himself from trying the LaCaze case and that he failed to disclose that he had been questioned about the weapon.

The state Supreme Court had rejected that defense argument in 2016. But the U.S. Supreme Court said in October that the case should be reviewed in light of the court’s then-recent ruling in a separate case that recusal is required when “the risk of bias” on the part of a judge “was too high to be constitutionally tolerable.”

The Louisiana justices heard arguments in January. On Tuesday, they again ruled that LaCaze’s first-degree murder conviction should stand, meaning there will be no new trial and LaCaze will continue to serve his life sentence.

“After carefully considering all the facts, we find the defendant has not shown that the circumstances created an unconstitutionally high risk of bias,” Justice John Weimer said in Tuesday’s ruling. There were no dissents.

The 1995 killings took place at the family-run Kin Anh restaurant. The victims were identified as Officer Ronald Williams, 25, who, like Frank, sometimes moonlighted as a guard at the restaurant; Cuong Vu, 18; and his sister Ha Vu, 24.

Frank left the restaurant after the shootings and returned later under the guise of bringing help, a detective said at the time. But other Vu family members who hid in a large cooler during the rampage, identified her when she returned.

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