Family upset after judge steps down from murder trial

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wwltv.com

Posted on November 2, 2011 at 11:13 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 2 at 11:42 PM

Tania Dall / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS -- One New Orleans family says it feels like the justice system has failed them.

Nia Anderson's family expected a murder trial to start Wednesday for the man accused of viciously killing the 28-year-old. Instead the family was shocked to learn that the judge overseeing the case asked to be removed from the trial.

"As a mom, I'm devastated, it's unbelievable," said Anderson's mom, Marvel Robertson.

"We have sat through months and years of trying to get to this point and on the morning of, to have this happen," said Robertson, visibly upset by the trial being postponed.

Her daughter Nia was killed back in 2007. Witnesses say a man named Eric Tracyzk walked into Pal's Bar in Faubourg St. John, pulled out a knife, stabbed another man and slit Nia's throat. Her family hoped justice would be served in court Wednesday.

"To have a murderer sitting there and to not have justice for our daughter is unbelievable," said Robertson, who has waited more than four years for the murder case to go to trial.

Court documents show Judge Karen Herman asked to be excused from overseeing Wednesday's trial, after defense attorneys questioned if she could be impartial.

Their concern: a pending investigation. Court documents say defense attorneys are concerned that an investigation into judge insurance premiums forwarded to the Attorney General's Office by the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office could influence the outcome of the murder trial.

Back in June, Eyewitness News first broke the story of the extra insurance benefit purchases by criminal court judges.

A week ago, 4 Investigates obtained a copy of the letter that has now sparked a state investigation. In the letter addressed to the State Attorney General Office, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro requested a probe into whether the judges have committed malfeasance by purchasing insurance benefits beyond what legal experts say is allowed under state law.

On Wednesday, during a city council budget hearing, Chief Judge Terry Alarcon defended the court's refusal to release records on the issue. Alarcon said some judges have raised health care privacy issues.

"I just prepared the case and was a bit surprised by the judge's decision. The judge believes she cannot be fair because I am involved in the prosecution of this matter," said Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.

Cannizzaro said he's been involved in the case from the start, speaking with Nia's family, interviewing witnesses and making court appearances last year.

"I'm very disappointed with the decision that the judge made. I have been involved with this case for sometime," said Cannizzaro, responding to Judge Herman's decision to recuse herself from the trial.

Eyewitness News Legal Analyst Chick Foret said the judge has every right to make that decision.

"Certainly a judge if she's made factual determination that she can't be fair in a case is not obligated to hear the case herself," said Foret.

However, one family said, politics aside, their case should be heard.

"This matter we understand is between DA's office and the courts, that doesn't involve this case at all, its totally separate. We can't believe the judge would do this, and would not do the job she was elected to do," said Robertson.

Nia's family said despite feeling let down by the justice system, it will continue to show up to court and make sure that a young woman who was taken too soon is never forgotten.

"We don't know if it will happen next week, next month or next year. All we know is that justice has not been served," added Robertson.

Herman is asking the Louisiana Supreme Court to appoint a new judge to handle Nia's murder trial.

As for whether or not other judges could recuse themselves from cases connected to the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office, Cannizzaro said last week, judges only threatened to do so. It's unclear if more could follow Herman's example.

 

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