Video: Family members of 7 killed in crash claim racism

Relatives of seven people killed last year in a head-on collision with a pickup truck reviewed a presentence report Tuesday on the man who admitted to driving drunk and killing all of the occupants of the other vehicle.

Before viewing the report, a dozen members of the family demonstrated in front of the East Feliciana Parish Courthouse, claiming that racism was involved in the prosecution and sentencing of Brett Gaston Gerald, 31, formerly of Greensburg.

The 12 paraded in front of the courthouse waving signs that included, “Judicial racism in Clinton, La.” Another said, “It’s not about black or white. It’s about wrong versus right.”

Jill Craft, civil attorney for the family of Brenda Gaines, said later the report was notable for what was not in it, rather than what it actually contained. She declined to elaborate.

State probation and parole agents compiled the report for 20th Judicial District Judge William G. Carmichael’s use in sentencing Gerald earlier this year.

John Gaines Jr., of Baton Rouge, and Craft said the victims’ family members were denied the right to view the presentence report before Gerald was sentenced.

Gaines said the presentence report is critical in every criminal proceeding because it influences the ultimate decision.

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

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.

Gerald’s attorney is appealing the sentence.

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.

Joseph Matthews, Mosely’s father, said the report had about 45 statements from people who know Gerald, including a number who indicated they knew him through church.

“They never really felt our pain,” Matthews said of the statements supporting Gerald.

“Forty-two were praises of him, and three weren’t,” he said.

John Gaines Jr., who lost his mother, sister and her four children in the collision, said he could not confirm the number of statements that Matthews said he counted.

“It was about mitigation and aggravating factors. It was definitely an imbalance,” Gaines said.

The victims’ family members originally were scheduled to view the report in June, but an error in the date listed on notices to the family led to additional criticism of the legal system’s handling of the case.

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

The judge said in court on June 25, 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.

District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla said he corrected the notification error by contacting the family spokesmen and setting up two sessions with Carmichael to which the family members were invited to attend.

Gaines said neither of the sessions was convenient to the family members because they had to arrange to be off from work.

D’Aquilla declined to call the Gerald case soon after court convened Tuesday but instead called all of the cases ahead of it on the day’s docket while family members waited for more than 2½ hours.

The district attorney said he had given the family special treatment by calling Gerald’s case early in previous hearings.

“We’re following the docket today,” D’Aquilla said.

The eight people allowed to view the report sat in a group in the back of the courtroom for about 90 minutes reading the report.

Carmichael ordered the eight not to “copy or photograph” the contents of the thick, sealed package.

“I note that Ms. Craft has been copying the report contrary to my instructions, and I want that noted in the record,” the judge said before adjourning court.