The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from Rogers LaCaze, the New Orleans man serving a life sentence for his conviction along with a police officer in a notorious triple murder at a New Orleans East restaurant that came to epitomize the Police Department’s corruption in the early 1990s.
The high court’s ruling may represent the end of the line for LaCaze, whose attorneys claimed his trial was tainted by a judge’s unusual role in an investigation following the 1995 killings.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to rehear the case was made Friday, before new Justice Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in, but announced on Tuesday.
LaCaze was convicted with New Orleans Police Officer Antoinette Frank in the killings at the Kim Anh Restaurant. As the city’s violence peaked, citizens were shocked to discover that one of the Police Department’s own was a killer. Frank remains on death row, although LaCaze’s death sentence was overturned on appeal.
The father of one of the victims said he was heartened by the high court’s ruling.
“I’m glad to at least get to some finality, and I would very much appreciate getting some finality on Antoinette Frank’s case. But I guess that’s going to be a long, drawn out procedure.” said Ron Williams.
Authorities said Frank committed an armed robbery at the restaurant where she worked a security detail on March 4, 1995. In the course of the hold-up, fellow officer Ronald “Ronnie” Williams II, as well as siblings Ha Vu and Cuong Vu, were killed.
Frank was identified when she returned to the scene as a responding officer, and LaCaze was arrested after using Williams’ credit card at a West Bank gas station.
Chau Vu, sister of Ha and Cuong Vu, hid in a walk-in cooler at the restaurant when her siblings and Ronnie Williams were gunned down. After LaCaze and Frank were arrested, Chau Vu testified that the pair had worked in tandem.
On Tuesday, she said she was relieved she wouldn’t have to testify at a new trial for LaCaze.
“I just want to get it done, and close the old chapter and move on,” she said.
LaCaze claimed he was at a pool hall at the time of the killings. On appeal, his lawyers mounted challenges on the grounds that one of the jurors was a commissioned law enforcement officer working for the State Police, and that former Criminal District Court Judge Frank Marullo never disclosed his own role in a police investigation after the killings.
Police were probing how Frank came into possession of a 9mm Beretta handgun — the same caliber as the gun used in the killings — from a police evidence room. Some evidence suggested that Marullo might have signed the order shortly before the killings, although he said his signature was forged.
LaCaze’s lawyers theorized that it might have been Frank’s brother, Adam, who invaded the restaurant with her. He was later arrested with a 9mm Beretta, but the gun was destroyed before it could be tested for ballistics evidence.
An ad hoc judge granted LaCaze a new trial in 2015, but it never happened. Instead, the case took a tortuous journey through the higher courts. The state Supreme Court denied LaCaze a new trial, then found itself with an order from the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider whether Marullo should have recused himself.
In a unanimous decision in March, the state Supreme Court said there was no evidence that Marullo concealed the investigation into the gun, or that his “unusual” role in the case favored one side over the other.
The U.S. Supreme Court this week was ruling on whether to review the State Supreme court’s latest decision, which it declined to do.
Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro issued a statement praising the decision, which came two years after the U.S. Supreme Court raised LaCaze’s hopes by granting an earlier appeal.
“This has been a very difficult, trying time for the family of these murder victims,” Cannizzaro said. “They rightfully expected that this conviction should have been put to rest in the 1990s. We are very satisfied with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, and we are hopeful this means that this man will deservedly spend the rest of his life in the penitentiary for the merciless crime he committed.”
Attorneys for LaCaze did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
This article provided by NewsEdge.