Victims’ family angered about presentence report hearing

Some relatives of seven people killed last year in a head-on collision with drunken driver Brett G. Gerald were angered Tuesday when court officials would not delay a court session to review a background report on Gerald.

Twentieth Judicial District Judge William G. Carmichael had agreed to allow relatives of the victims view a sealed presentence report on Gerald during court Tuesday, but notices to some family members from the Clerk of Court’s Office said the session would be June 28.

“We did not get proper notification,” said John T. Gaines Jr., spokesman for the largest group of crash victim relatives, adding that he did not receive any written notice of the hearing.

Gaines denounced Carmichael and District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla for not honoring his request to delay the proceeding.

“These people in Clinton do what they want to. They are misusing their authority,” Gaines said.

D’Aquilla said some of the notices had the wrong date, but he told Carmichael that every effort was made to contact the recipients by telephone to tell them the document would be available for inspection Tuesday.

He said he talked to Gaines early Monday afternoon about the hearing, but he said Gaines never mentioned wanting to delay it.

Later on Monday, D’Aquilla said he got a phone call from the clerk’s office telling him that Gaines had filed a motion to continue the matter.

“I can’t imagine the suffering the families have gone through in this case,” Carmichael said from the bench Tuesday, but he added that Gaines had no basis on which to file for a continuance and no standing in the legal proceedings.

“It will be treated as a request, and I’ll leave it up to Mr. D’Aquilla,” the judge said.

D’Aquilla indicated he did not want to continue the matter, and four other relatives of some of the victims viewed the half-inch thick report while sitting in the courtroom. They declined to discuss what they saw.

Later on Tuesday, D’Aquilla relented and said he told the attorney representing the Gaines family in a civil suit that the families could view the report at the courthouse at 9:30 a.m. Friday.

Gerald pleaded guilty in December to seven counts of vehicular homicide in the May 30, 2012, collision between his pickup truck and a car on La. 67 south of Clinton.

Seven Baton Rouge residents riding in the car were killed in the crash. Brenda Gaines, 64; Denise Gaines, 33; Diamond Johnson, 12; Jyran Johnson, 6; and Angela Matthews Mosely, 36, died in the wreckage of the car. Two other passengers, Willie Gaines Jr., 15, and Rogerick Johnson Jr., 13, also of Baton Rouge, died at hospitals several days later.

Carmichael initially sentenced Gerald to 70 years in prison, but cut the prison term to 35 years after the state Supreme Court ruled that vehicular homicide is a crime of violence for which defendants must serve 85 percent of their sentences.

D’Aquilla said last week that the state constitution allows people on an official victims’ notification list for a particular crime to view the presentence report prepared by probation and parole agents for a judge’s consideration in sentencing a defendant.

John Gaines Jr. said the family members knew they had a right to see the report and had asked to see it when Gerald was sentenced.

Carmichael said in court, however, that the only request made to him prior to sentencing was that the family be allowed to have pictures of the crash victims in the courtroom.

No one asked him to view the presentence report, the judge said.