NEW ORLEANS -- Zachary Winfield is well-known among residents in certain parts of Uptown and Broadmoor, and not in a good way. Several times over the past few years, Winfield has been caught on surveillance cameras taking packages from the porches of homes in the area.
With several thefts convictions already on his rap sheet, Winfield added to that tally on Tuesday when he pleaded guilty to four more porch thefts, but he decided to roll the dice and go to trial on a more serious felony charge of burglary.
That trial ended in a hung jury late Tuesday night when at least one of the six jurors voted not guilty.
The stakes were high for the 44-year-old Winfield. As a multiple offender, he could have been sentenced to life in prison had he been convicted.
Before the trial, he turned down an offer from the district attorney’s office to plead guilty in exchange for an eight-year sentence, defense attorney Craig Mordock said.
“In the past, he has taken things off front stoops and he's never done anything violent, he's never been found guilty of a crime of violence,” Mordock said. “To take an eight-year sentence just didn’t seem in the interest of justice.”
The burglary count stemmed from a theft at a home on Audubon Street in which Winfield was accused of stealing a children’s bicycle from an open garage.
The jurors were shown surveillance video from several angles showing Winfield approaching the house, entering the garage, taking the bike and, ultimately, riding away on it.
In fact, Winfield admitted taking the bike, but Mordock argued that he should not have been charged with burglary because he did enter any “dwelling’ or “structure” as specified in the criminal statute. The video showed that the garage was open and Winfield simply walked in and helped himself to the bike.
“There is some doubt as to whether he entered a structure,” Mordock said. “The charge was inappropriate for what occurred.”
At least one juror agreed, leading to a hung jury and mistrial.
Even Mordock admitted it was an unexpected outcome given the video and Winfield's confession, plus the fact that Winfield was removed from the courtroom after an outburst in which he tried to fire Mordock in mid-trial in front of the jury.
“It was the Julian Edelman catch of criminal law,” Mordock said, referring to the near-miraculous catch that helped the New England Patriots win Super Bowl LI.
On the four theft convictions, Winfield was sentenced to credit for the time he has already served since he was originally arrested in late 2014, but he remains locked up on the burglary case, which is still open.
A spokesman for the District Attorney’s office said they plan to retry Winfield, but would not disclose if any new plea deal would be offered.