Defense works on reconstruction of fatal wreck
CLINTON — The attorney for a man accused of killing seven people in a May 30 head-on collision raised questions Tuesday about a state trooper’s investigation of the accident scene.
After hearing testimony Tuesday from a state trooper and reviewing the accident report, defense attorney Tommy Damico, representing Brett G. Gerald, said he still has questions about whether the collision occurred in Gerald’s lane of travel or in that of the victims’ car.
Damico also said he wants his experts to review whatever a state trooper downloaded from an onboard computer, or “black box,” in Gerald’s truck.
“I don’t know if the information obtained by State Police is going to be enough to tell me where the accident took place,” Damico said after court.
Five people in the car died instantly in the collision on La. 67 about a mile south of the Comite River in East Feliciana Parish: the driver, Brenda Gaines, 64; Denise Gaines, 33; Diamond Johnson, 12; Jyran Johnson, 6; and Angela Mosely, 36, all of Baton Rouge.
Two other passengers, Willie Gaines Jr., 15, and Rogerick Johnson Jr., 13, also of Baton Rouge, died later.
Gerald, 30, of Greensburg, faces seven counts of vehicular homicide in the case. State Police said an analysis of a sample of Gerald’s blood taken at Lane Regional Medical Center in Zachary showed his blood-alcohol content was 0.15 percent.
In Louisiana, a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent is considered presumptive evidence of drunken driving.
Relatives of the victims, backed by a New Orleans minister active in civil-rights causes and other supporters, picketed outside the courthouse, holding signs critical of Gerald’s treatment by the criminal justice system after three earlier DWI arrests.
Some of them wore T-shirts into the small, first-floor courtroom demanding “no more favoritism” and “justice for the Gaines, Matthews and Johnson families.”
John Gaines Jr., whose mother and five other relatives died in the crash, said Gerald was out celebrating his birthday on May 30.
“Well, today is my birthday, and I am demonstrating for the justice of my loved ones, along with my family and friends,” he said, adding that Tuesday’s demonstration was intended to let the community know “this could have been anyone’s family that this happened to.”
The Rev. Raymond Brown, of New Orleans, said the seven deaths “shocked the state and the nation.”
“Is it (about) civil rights? I don’t know. But I know this: It’s a failed system. His (Gerald’s) political favoritism has, hopefully, come to an end,” Brown said.
Gerald, who has been in jail since June 4 with bail set at $1 million, is the grandson of Gaston Gerald, a former state senator and Baton Rouge city-parish councilman.
“I don’t know why they’re trying to make it a political case. It’s not,” Damico said.
The Tuesday court session included reports from Damico and 20th Judicial District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla on the status of pretrial discovery motions, which Judge William G. Carmichael held open without a final decision until Oct. 9. Trial is set in December.
The hearing was held in a small downtown courtroom because Gerald’s ankle injuries require him to attend in a wheelchair and the antebellum courthouse does not have an elevator.
Senior Trooper Jeff Holley answered questions about his interrogation of Gerald at the hospital emergency room, serving a search warrant to obtain the vehicle computer and the accident scene.
Holley said he found Gerald to be impaired at the hospital but believed he understood his right against self-incrimination.
State Police spokesmen said after the crash that Gerald’s truck crossed the centerline of the highway into the path of Gaines’ vehicle.
The trooper said he based the conclusions in his report on statements from eyewitnesses, evidence at the scene and Gerald’s statement, which Holley said was that he had no recollection of the crash.
He said someone running into a tree would likely remember it after the impact.
“If you don’t know what happened, that tells me something,” Holley said.
Damico questioned whether the collision could have occurred in Gerald’s northbound lane, rather than the southbound lane as stated in the report.
After court, the attorney said defense experts are working on their own reconstruction of the collision, as well as an analysis of the State Police Crime Lab’s tests of Gerald’s blood.
Responding to a reporter’s questions, D’Aquilla and Damico said demonstrations in the community during court hearings, and the resulting publicity, increase the chances of the trial being moved.
“That’s certainly a possibility. This doesn’t help,” Damico said, adding that wearing similar T-shirts and waving signs on a trial day would be grounds for a mistrial.
“The more publicity, the more it increases chances that the trial could be moved. But it doesn’t matter where it’s tried, you’d still have the same overwhelming evidence,” D’Aquilla said.