NEW ORLEANS – Former New Orleans police officer Michael Hunter walked out of federal court Wednesday alongside his wife, knowing that in a few months he will be behind bars for his role in the Danziger Bridge shooting that left two people dead and four others wounded.
A federal judge gave Hunter the maximum sentence – eight years – to begin by March 14, 2011. It was greater than the suggested sentence, and Judge Sarah Vance explained that the kind of behavior displayed by multiple NOPD officers on the Danziger Bridge less than a week after Hurricane Katrina was "poisonous.”
“It breeds mistrust, cynicism… and the antidote is punishment that will deter others,” Vance said.
Hunter pleaded guilty earlier this year to helping cover up the shooting. He was charged with one count of conspiracy to obstruction of justice and and one count of misprision of a felony.
Outside the courtroom Hunter had no comment, except to say, “It is what it is."
But inside the courtroom, he looked straight at the family of Ronald and Lance Madison, two of the victims in the case, and apologized, saying, "Nothing I can say or do can take your pain away."
"I thought it was a good gesture. It didn't make up for anything, but it was a good gesture,” said Dr. Rommel Madison, the brother the two victims.
Four other former officers have also pleaded guilty in the case and six other former or current officers are set to go on trial in June. Hunter is expected to be one of the government's star witnesses in that trial.
Vance pointed out that Hunter has been cooperating with federal investigators in exchange for lesser charges. Still, Vance said she took into consideration that Hunter himself shot at unarmed civilians, even though the former officer doesn't believe he hit anyone.
Vance told Hunter, "Your decency is slow in coming, and it came with strings attached. It is hard to find you very sympathetic."
Meanwhile, the victim's family said they're continuing to seek justice, one case at a time.
“We're staying strong, and as we've said in the past, it hurts every time we have to go through this again and again,” Madison said.
Prosecutors can ask Vance to reduce Hunter's sentence once he finishes cooperating with the investigation.