(TriceEdneyWire.com) — After more than 14 hours of deliberation over the course of three days, a federal jury has found two NOPD officers guilty of fatally beating a man in Faubourg Tremé nearly six years ago and attempting to cover up the incident.
The jury of seven men and five women began deliberating Monday, April 11 in the trial for a New Orleans police officer charged with beating a 48-year-old handyman to death and another officer charged with helping his partner cover up the deadly encounter.
Prosecutors said Officer Melvin Williams broke four of Raymond Robair’s ribs and crushed his spleen when he kicked and beat him with a baton after he and Officer Matthew Dean Moore approached the man while patrolling Faubourg Tremé nearly six years ago. Robair died of massive internal bleeding after the officers drove him to a hospital, according to prosecutors.
The officers deny beating Robair and claim he slipped and fell on a curb as they approached him on July 30, 2005, less than a month before Hurricane Katrina struck the city. The officers also said they suspected Robair had ingested drugs.
But the jury heard testimony during the trial from Tremé residents who said they saw Williams beat Robair. “Williams believed he had the power to beat a man in broad daylight, in front of multiple witnesses and get away with it,” Justice Department attorney Forrest Christian told jurors during closing arguments Monday. “You know that Melvin Williams is not above the law.”
The officers’ lawyers tried to attribute Robair’s death to the hospital doctors who treated him for a heart attack for about 90 minutes before they discovered his spleen had ruptured.
Williams’ attorney, Frank DeSalvo, said before Wednesday’s verdict was read that he agrees with prosecutors that residents have a right to be free from unjustified use of force by police officers.
“By the same token, every man – rich or poor, drug addict or not – deserves to have the same medical treatment that you or I would get in a time of need, and (Robair) didn’t get it,” he said.
Prosecutors said the officers are to blame for the delay in treating Robair’s ruptured spleen because they lied to the doctors and nurses at Charity Hospital.
“If the defendants hadn’t done anything wrong, they would have told the doctors exactly what happened,” said Justice Department attorney Jared Fishman.Moore’s lawyer, Eric Hessler, said the officers responded properly and told the truth about their encounter with Robair.
“They did their best with what they knew,” he said.
Dr. Michael Baden, a nationally known forensic pathologist, testified as an expert witness for the defense. DeSalvo said Baden concluded that none of Robair’s injuries could have been caused by a police baton. Hessler said the doctors who treated Robair didn’t find any external injuries on him.
“You get hit with this, it’s going to leave a mark,” Hessler said, showing a baton to the jury.
The defense lawyers argued that residents who testified for the government gave inconsistent accounts of the alleged beating. Fishman said those “minor inconsistencies” are inevitable with the passage of time.
“They’re just neighborhood people who told you like they remember it,” he said.
Williams and Moore were found guilty on all charges. Judge Eldon Fallon revoked both officers’ bond and remanded them into custody. Their sentencing is set for July 14.
Williams faces a possible maximum sentence of life in prison. Moore could receive up to a 25-year sentence.
“Today’s verdict is evidence that we, and our partners in the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and FBI, are absolutely committed to bring those who have violated the sacred rights of our citizens to justice, in the hope that our pursuit will give the people of New Orleans confidence in the protection of honest and professional law enforcement,” U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said Wednesday.
“Whoever you are, you’re not above the law,” Letten added. “You do not have the right to harm our citizens.”
The Raymond Robair murder case is the second to be tried. In December, a jury convicted three former NOPD officers in the death of 31-year-old Henry Glover, who was shot by a police officer outside a strip mall in Katrina’s aftermath before another officer burned his body inside a car on a Mississippi River levee.
A trial is scheduled to begin in June for five current or former officers charged in deadly shootings on the Danziger Bridge in eastern New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and an alleged conspiracy to make the shootings appear justified. Another trial is slated to be held in August for two NOPD officers charged with lying under oath about the fatal shooting of a man outside the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center shortly after Hurricane Katrina.