Missing evidence at issue in Singreen case
Four days after Harry and Shirley Singreen were found beaten in their Uptown home in 2009, allegedly by their own son, police searched the home for evidence, including any signs Michael Singreen or his sister were sexually abused.
Somehow that evidence got discarded. Just how or exactly when it was lost — or even precisely what it was — is unclear, police testified Tuesday.
Whether the evidence might have proven valuable to Michael Singreen at his first-degree murder trial, slated to start Jan. 7, is unclear.
Police said the documents, VHS tape and other seized items were reviewed and deemed irrelevant.
An attorney for Singreen, who has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, suggested the lost evidence included a journal that may have documented a history of sexual abuse.
Meanwhile, an Orleans Parish prosecutor told Criminal District Judge Laurie White on Tuesday the office would not seek the death penalty against Singreen.
“Death is off the table,” prosecutor Andre Gaudin Jr. said.
Singreen is the latest first-degree murder defendant to skirt the possibility of death row, with Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro opting against the ultimate penalty before trial.
Singren, 33, a De La Salle High School graduate and father of two, sat pale and quiet Tuesday in orange jail garb and shackles, perusing court papers at the defense table as police officers testified about evidence discarded from a search of the home on the 200 block of Audubon Boulevard.
That’s where police had found his father. Harry Singreen, 66, dead inside. Shirley Singreen, 67, survived five weeks at a hospital.
Detectives testified Tuesday they didn’t know how the evidence from the January 2009 search disappeared.
Everything taken from the search was lost, said one of Singreen’s attorneys, Dwight Doskey.
The lead detective in the case, Catherine Beckett, was fired from the force after being accused of perjury in an unrelated case. Beckett is expected to testify about the missing evidence when the hearing resumes Oct. 31.
When police arrived at the home on Audubon, they found “a hoarder-type atmosphere,” homicide Detective Winston Harbin said. The rooms, he said, “were filthy. A lot of newspaper everywhere.”
Sgt. Nicholas Gernon acknowledged that, in part, police were searching for evidence of physical or sexual abuse suffered by Singreen or his sister.
It wasn’t clear from his testimony what led police to search for such evidence.
Elizabeth Singreen, who was in the room when her parents were beaten, is now housed in a state mental facility. Whether she may be able to testify at her brother’s trial will be a focus of the next court date Oct. 31.
Michael Singreen, who received psychiatric treatment on and off dating as far back as 2000, has toggled between rulings of competency and incompetency. Last year, White cited Singreen’s mental history in denying prosecutors the chance to present a jury with his confession, in which he said he killed his parents because “I was just tired of them.”
Some of the taped confession may be used when his attorneys argue an insanity defense.
Asked about Singreen, Doskey said: “There are good days and bad days. Depends on the day. Michael’s always been bright.”
The move to scrap the death penalty in first-degree murder cases has been a common one for Cannizzaro. Felton Bernard, the last to escape a death penalty trial because of a decision by Cannizzaro, was convicted earlier this month for a murder spree that claimed three family members and a friend.
He is due to be sentenced next month to life behind bars.
Cannizzaro declined to say why he chose not to seek the death penalty in Singreen’s case, but said the family’s wishes and mental health issues were both factors in his decision regarding Bernard.
“The Supreme Court has been pretty clear that when there are mental health issues there, it has not looked favorably on verdicts of death,” Cannizzaro said.
In the only other capital trial under Cannizzaro’s watch, Alfred Jones was convicted in 2010 for the murders of a pair of teen brothers. The jury refused death.
Cannizzaro insisted he will still seek the death penalty in crimes that are extremely heinous, or based on “how bad a person it is.”
With so few executions in Louisiana — there has been just one since 2002 — only extreme cases even warrant a look, Cannizzaro said.
“We will tread very cautiously in that territory,” he said. “It’s very taxing on us. And in the event we’re successful, then we have seen that we’re still defending these cases many, many years down the road.”
As it stands, a handful of defendants in Orleans Parish still have pending first-degree murder charges, with no decision yet on death, according to Cannizzaro’s office.
Among the hurdles: A conviction in death cases require a 12-0 verdict, not the 10-2 vote allowed in non-capital cases in Louisiana and Oregon.
The last person sentenced to death in Orleans Parish, Michael “Mike-Mike” Anderson, no longer sits on death row at Angola. His conviction in a notorious 2006 Central City massacre was reversed in 2009 when former Criminal District Judge Lynda Van Davis found that prosecutors failed to turn over a videotaped interview of a key eyewitness before trial and that they should have disclosed a “prior plea agreement” made with a jailhouse informant in exchange for his testimony.
Anderson is serving a federal life sentence.
The last New Orleans defendants who are now on death row are former NOPD Officer Antoinette Frank and her accomplice, Rogers Lacaze, who were convicted in a 1995 triple murder at a local Vietnamese restaurant.
Nearly two decades later, Lacaze is now in the midst of a fight to have his conviction tossed.
Editor’s note: This story was updated Oct. 16 to clarify Judge Lynda Van Davis’ reasons for ordering a new trial for Michael “Mike-Mike” Anderson.