Judge rejects bid for new trial in Katrina case

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday rejected defense attorneys’ claims that a video shot at the scene of deadly shootings on a New Orleans bridge after Hurricane Katrina reveals new evidence warranting a new trial for five former police officers.

The footage shot of the Danziger Bridge by WFOR, a CBS affiliate in Miami, on the day of the 2005 shootings is “far from determinative” that a government witness lied during the officers’ trial, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt said in his ruling.

On Sept. 4, 2004, less than a week after Hurricane Katrina’s landfall, police shot and killed two unarmed people and wounded four others on the bridge before engaging in a cover-up designed to make the shootings appear justified. Engelhardt sentenced the five former officers to prison terms of up to 65 years.

Defense attorneys argued the video refutes trial testimony by Jeffrey Lehrmann, a former detective who pleaded guilty to participating in a cover-up, that Sgt. Kenneth Bowen kicked shell casings off the walkway before crime scene technicians could process the scene. Bowen is one of the five officers convicted of civil rights violations stemming from the shootings and cover-up.

Prosecutors failed to provide defense lawyers with the video before or during the trial, according to the judge. Engelhardt, however, said he didn’t find a “reasonable likelihood” that the contents of the video would have affected the jury’s verdict. At most, he said, the video is inconclusive.

Engelhardt hasn’t ruled on a separate request for a new trial based on claims that prosecutors engaged in a “secret public relations campaign” that inflamed public opinion against the officers. However, he has ordered the Justice Department to conduct a new investigation of media leaks related to the Danziger Bridge probe.

The Associated Press and The Times-Picayune newspaper reported Feb. 23, 2010, that former Lt. Michael Lohman was expected to plead guilty in the case the following day to participating in a cover-up of the shootings. The case against Lohman was under seal at the time those reports were published.

Engelhardt initially called for an investigation in June, which resulted in a report from Jan Mann, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s former top lieutenant. Engelhardt said the report was tainted by allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and must be redone.

Letten demoted Mann last month for anonymously posting comments on a newspaper’s website about a south Louisiana landfill owner who is the target of a probe by Letten’s office.