Murder suspect wants snitches at bay

A second defendant held at the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center is asking a judge to segregate her from other inmates as a preemptive measure to prevent any jail associates from claiming to have knowledge about her first-degree murder case.

Harold Register, an attorney for Raven Senegal, argued in court papers that his client, who possibly faces the death penalty, is vulnerable to inmates weaving false tales to get their own sentences reduced.

Register filed the motion on May 22, two weeks after an almost-identical request was filed by Thomas Alonzo, an attorney for Bryant Rogers. No rulings have been made on the motions.

Senegal, 20, and Rogers, 25, were indicted April 23 in separate first-degree murder cases. Senegal is accused of suffocating her infant daughter in January, while Rogers is charged with beating his girlfriend’s toddler son to death. Both defendants remain inside the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center, where they’re being held without bail.

Paul Marx, who runs the 15th Judicial District Public Defender’s Office, said a Louisiana law passed in 2011 gives district attorneys the power to offer reduced sentences to convicted felons who, through testimony, help convict someone else.

“We’re very concerned that’s going to increase (inmates’) motivation to fabricate stories,” Marx said. “I think my young (public defenders) are trying to prevent that from happening.”

The Louisiana Legislature in 2011 passed a bill that became part of Louisiana’s Code of Criminal Procedure — articles 881.6 and 881.7 — which lays out the procedure for sentence reductions. While prosecutors can ask for a convict’s sentence to be reduced, a judge will make the final decision.

The legislation “hasn’t been publicized that much, but it’s a big deal,” Marx said.

Neither Senegal or Rogers intends to talk to anybody about their cases, their lawyers wrote, while noting they both had been approached by other inmates.

Mike Harson, district attorney for the 15th Judicial District that encompasses Lafayette, Vermilion and Acadia parishes, disagreed on the significance of the law change.

Harson said the public defenders for Senegal and Rogers were raising as many issues as they could, and he doubted whether it would amount to much.

Harson said the 2011 legislation built a transparent method for using inmate testimony: any agreement to reduce a sentence is written in a memorandum of understanding and OK’d by the presiding judge.

E. Pete Adams, head of the Louisiana District Attorney’s Association, said he was “unaware of any widespread practices” of Louisiana district attorneys taking advantage of the 2011 legislation in prosecutions.

The 2011 change that provides a reduced-sentence avenue for state inmates mirrors a long-standing federal practice.

To highlight the potential perils of using inmate testimony, Marx referenced a federal drug case in the mid-2000s.

After a trial in 2006, U.S. District Judge Tucker Melancon threw out the cocaine conspiracy convictions of a Church Point mother and three of her sons. The convictions were rendered by a jury that based its decision partly on inmate testimony that turned out to be false.

According to the motions by attorneys for Senegal and Rogers, both defendants seek “to close the door before it opens.”

“Because this case has death penalty potential, exacting standards must be met to assure that it is fair,” the motions state. “The death penalty ‘is unique in its irrevocability.’ ”