Lead prosecutor in Vazquez murder case held in contempt

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by Mike Hoss / Eyewitness News

wwltv.com

Posted on December 17, 2009 at 12:08 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 17 at 6:16 PM

NEW ORLEANS - After waiting more than six years for a guilty verdict in the murder case of Jose Vazquez, the Vazquez family didn't plan on being back at criminal court. But Thursday they were back at the courthouse, now in defense of the lead prosecutor in the case.

Assistant District Attorney Eusi Phillips, the lead prosecutor in the Jose Vazquez murder case, has been held in contempt of court  by Judge Arthur Hunter, who said he showed disrespectful conduct during the lengthy and often delayed trial. He was taken into custody and sentenced to five days in jail.

The District Attorney's Office says Phillips was booked around 10 a.m. and released on bail around 12:30 p.m. Phillips plans to appeal Hunter's decision.

Wednesday, jurors returned a guilty verdict for Tyrone Wells, convicting him of second-degree murder in the killing of Gentilly restaurant owner Jose Vazquez.

Vazquez's family stood on the courthouse steps and defended the man who they say defended the community by putting a murderer behind bars.

"For him to hold Eusi in contempt -- if Judge Arthur Hunter can go home and put his head on the pillow tonight and have a clear conscience and go to sleep, may he rest in hell," said Kimberly Vazquez, the widow of Jose Vazquez.

Jose Vazquez's brother, David Vazquez, said "he's taken a man, Eusi Phillips, that deserves a medal and put a serial number on him. That's not right."

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro spoke in Phillip’s defense at the contempt of court hearing.

“I told him that that was unfair and I didn’t think that this lawyer deserved to be treated like that,” Cannizzaro said.

A former Orleans Criminal Court Judge, Cannizzaro said he saw nothing of Phillip’s behavior during the trial that warranted Hunter’s action.

“But I didn’t find him to be disrespectful. He did not use any inappropriate conduct with regard to the judge,” Cannizzaro said.

The Vazquez family called Hunter a one-sided, pro-defense judge, and hoped for change. “I’m asking that the people and the citizens of New Orleans ask Judge Hunter to resign,” said Kimberly Vazquez. “He is not a fair judge. He has not been a fair judge to my family, to my husband.”

Eyewitness News went to Hunter’s courtroom Thursday afternoon and smoke to his clear for response, but she said Hunter had left for the day.

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