Jury selection to prove tough in Danziger trial, analyst says



Posted on June 22, 2011 at 5:22 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 22 at 7:50 PM

Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS -- Jury selection is underway in a New Orleans police corruption case that stunned the city amid the chaos of Hurricane Katrina.

The jury will decide the case against five current and former NOPD officers charged in the deadly shooting of unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge.

Judge Kurt Engelhardt spent the morning and most of the day interviewing potential jurors for the Danziger case. The courtroom also got a sneak peek at the witness list that includes former top cops and some other familiar names.

Nearly six years after the deadly shooting on the Danziger Bridge, five current or former New Orleans police officers entered the federal courthouse for what will likely be a 7- to 8-week trial.

A pool of about 70 people from across the metro area crowded into a third-floor courtroom to begin the process of picking a fair and impartial jury – a difficult task in a much publicized case about a chaotic time for the NOPD and the city the officers took an oath to protect and serve.

When asked if any of the potential jurors heard or read anything about the case, nearly every one of them raised their hand.

“Just because a prospective juror has heard about this case doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she can’t be fair,” said Eyewitness News Danziger trial analyst and former prosecutor Donald “Chick” Foret. “That’s why you go into more extensive and more specific question. That’s what’s going on this afternoon.”

Four of the officers, Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Anthony Villavaso and Robert Faulcon are accused of civil rights charges in the shooting deaths of 17-year-old James Brisette and 40-year-old Ronald Madison.

They are also accused of wounding four other civilians on the bridge the morning of September 4, 2005.

Another officer, Sgt. Arthur Kaufman is accused of planting evidence and writing a bogus report to cover-up the shootings.

Foret said attorneys were given 80,000 pages of discovery to review prior to the trial.

“You got a mountain of physical evidence or documentary evidence ,” Foret said. “You’re going to have expert testimony I anticipate on both sides. You’re going to have forensic evidence and testimony about that.”

The judge read a list Wednesday of potential witnesses including two former New Orleans police Superintendents Warren Riley and Eddie Compass, current Deputy Chief Marlon Defillo and five former officers who have already pleaded guilty in the case.

“There are three of the folks who were on the scene, on the bridge when everything transpired, when everything took place,” Foret said. “There are two of the former officers, Lehrmann and Lohman, who showed up on the scene later to handle the investigation.”