Photos: Family members demonstrate at courthouse

CLINTON -- Relatives of seven people killed last year in a head-on collision with a drunken driver’s pickup truck held a demonstration in front of the East Feliciana Parish Courthouse Tuesday claiming that racism was involved in the prosecution and sentencing of the driver.

The demonstration came before the family members filed into 20th Judicial District Court to view a presentence investigation report prepared by state probation and parole agents for Judge William G. Carmichael’s use in sentencing Brett G. Gerald, 31, earlier this year.

John Gaines Jr. of Baton Rouge 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.

Twelve people paraded in front of the courthouse waving signs and soliciting honks from log trucks, wood chip trucks and gravel trucks.

The signs included, “Judicial racism in Clinton, La.” Another said, “It’s not about black or white. It’s about wrong versus right.”

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.

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.

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 the family 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.