A federal judge has ordered a new trial for five former New Orleans police officers convicted of civil rights violations stemming from deadly shootings on a bridge in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
In a 129-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt said at least three government attorneys posted anonymous comments on a New Orleans newspaper's website, creating a "carnival atmosphere" that perverted justice in the case.
"The public must have absolute trust and confidence in this process," he wrote. "Re-trying this case is a very small price to pay in order to protect the validity of the verdict in this case, the institutional integrity of this court, and the criminal justice system as a whole."
Attorneys for the five former officers convicted at trial in 2011 claim a series of leaks to news organizations were part of a "secret public relations campaign" that deprived their clients of a fair trial.
Engelhardt granted their request for a new trial, though he called it a "bitter pill to swallow."
"The government's actions, and initial lack of candor and credibility thereafter, is like scar tissue that will long evidence infidelity to the principles of ethics, professionalism, and basic fairness and common sense necessary to every criminal prosecution, wherever it should occur in this country," he wrote.
Police shot and killed two unarmed people and wounded four others on Sept. 4, 2005, at the Danziger Bridge before engaging in a cover-up designed to make the shootings appear justified.
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