Prosecutors oppose leniency for cop who burned body

Federal prosecutors are vigorously opposing Gregory McRae’s plea for leniency ahead of his resentencing next week, saying the former New Orleans police officer deserves a lengthy prison term for incinerating Henry Glover’s remains four days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.

The “barbaric” burning, they maintain, marked the centerpiece of a police cover-up that “significantly shielded the misconduct of others” and stymied a civil rights investigation into Glover’s shooting death at the hands of then-Officer David Warren.

In new court filings, prosecutors said McRae’s punishment should not be diminished by Warren’s acquittal at a retrial, and they scoffed at McRae’s attempt to attribute his torching of Glover’s body to the trauma and sleep deprivation he experienced while helping to police New Orleans in its most chaotic hour.

A “completely appropriate” sentence, they said, would be the same 17-year term he received before an appeals court reversed part of his conviction in late 2012.

“There is no dispute that the days following Hurricane Katrina presented an unprecedentedly horrific and challenging period for the city of New Orleans,” prosecutors wrote. “However, as this case makes clear, the horrors that followed Katrina were exacerbated by the conduct of police officers like defendant McRae, who boldly and brazenly violated his oath to protect the people of New Orleans.”

The prosecution’s remarks came in rebuttal to a motion filed last month by McRae seeking a sentence of 10 years and a day, a term defense attorney Mike Fawer described as “unwarranted” but that is the minimum punishment allowed under the law. McRae maintains he had no inkling that Glover, an unarmed Algiers man, was the victim of a police shooting.

“There is no need for imprisonment to protect the public or for deterrence,” Fawer wrote in his motion, describing McRae’s actions as “an act of desperation” and urging U.S. District Judge Lance Africk to depart from the federal sentencing guidelines in the case.

Prosecutors contend there is “simply no other motive” than a police cover-up to explain McRae’s decision to set Glover’s body alight in a car on the Algiers levee. They cite “strong circumstantial evidence (that) demonstrates that McRae knew of Warren’s shooting and acted to help cover it up.”

“This conclusion is compounded by the fact that of the approximately 1,900 people who perished during and after Katrina, only one human body was burned,” they wrote.

While friends and former colleagues have written letters to Africk on McRae’s behalf, suggesting he’s been unfairly maligned, prosecutors have painted an unflattering picture of the 26-year New Orleans Police Department veteran. “To this day,” they wrote, “defendant McRae has never fully taken responsibility for his conduct.”

Prosecutors note that Glover, too, had to endure the “fear, chaos and uncertainty” that followed the storm. “He survived days without water or electricity, and he spent sleepless nights worrying that armed assailants would break into his home and harm his family. Henry Glover was only trying to leave New Orleans on the day that he was shot dead by NOPD Officer David Warren.”

McRae, 53, admitted he believed Glover was a homicide victim, but he has denied burning the body as part of a cover-up. He testified he had seen other corpses decomposing after the storm and did not want that to happen to Glover.

Glover, 31, was shot by Warren, a rookie cop, outside an Algiers strip mall on Sept. 2, 2005. Warren, who was on the mall’s second-story balcony guarding a 4th District detective office, told jurors he feared for his life when Glover ran toward the mall to retrieve some looted items. Warren initially was sentenced to 25 years in prison, but the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the jury was unduly prejudiced against him because he stood trial with several co-defendants.

Prosecutors say Warren’s acquittal during his December retrial “should have no impact on the calculation of McRae’s sentence,” objecting to a pre-sentence investigation report prepared for Africk’s consideration. As opposed to the first time McRae was sentenced, the probation officer who prepared the new presentence report decided not to treat Glover’s death as manslaughter in light of the “not guilty” verdict in Warren’s retrial.

But assistant U.S. attorneys said the second Warren verdict is of no consequence to the McRae case because the same jury that convicted him of “obstructing a federal criminal investigation determined that the underlying shooting by Warren constituted manslaughter.”

Another of the three NOPD officers convicted in the Glover case had his conviction set aside after evidence emerged that appeared to contradict the government’s claim that a police report was doctored to make Glover’s shooting death seem justifiable. Two other officers were acquitted of their alleged roles in the case.

While McRae is the only one of the five officers charged in the case who remains behind bars, prosecutors said his own “obstructive conduct is substantially responsible for” that fact.

“Because of McRae’s conduct,” they said, “some of the most vital evidence that could have established Warren’s guilt was unavailable.”

McRae is scheduled to be resentenced by Africk on Aug. 15.

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.