NEW ORLEANS — Gerard Ladmirault sat in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court on Monday in shackles, but he – and almost everyone else there -- was expecting his conviction to be wiped away by a legal loophole.
Instead, Judge Rhonda Goode-Douglas sent him back to prison on a completely different technicality.
Ladmirault was convicted in 2018 of forcing LaToya Gaines to have oral sex with him at knifepoint in 1991, when she was 13.
It took three trials, two different judges and several appeals to higher courts, but nobody argued the charges filed against Ladmirault in 2014 were filed too late – until earlier this year.
Less than four years into his 15-year sentence at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, Ladmirault found the legal loophole.
An old Louisiana law used to give the state until a child victim of a sexual assault turned 28 to file charges. Gaines made the complaint against Ladmirault immediately in October 1991 as a 13-year-old, but her mother asked her to drop the charges and they were refused by the district attorney in 1992. It wasn’t until she said she saw Ladmirault with another teenage girl in 2014 that her suppressed memories flooded back, and she asked the DA to reopen the case.
Louisiana’s legal deadline to file charges changed in 2005, to give the state until a victim’s 48th birthday to file charges. Gaines doesn't turn 48 until July 24, 2025, and she was 36 when the charges were filed in February 2014.
But the current, longer deadline to file charges didn't take effect until August 15, 2005. That was 22 days after Gaines turned 28 -- 22 days after the old law would have made it too late to charge Ladmirault with aggravated oral sexual battery.
Assistant District Attorney Brad Scott told Gaines this July that Ladmirault would likely get out of prison.
A distraught Gaines has been readying herself ever since for Ladmirault to be let out of prison and for his record as a sex offender to be thrown out, “as if it never happened.”
But then came Monday’s hearing. Ladmirault represented himself and argued that his old defense attorney, David Belfield, and appellate attorney, the late Martin Regan, were ineffective for failing to argue the case was time-barred.
Ladmirault and Gaines looked equally shocked when Goode-Douglas rejected that argument. She accepted the technical argument made by Scott, instead – that Ladmirault hadn’t called Belfield to the witness stand and failed to prove that Belfield was ineffective and hadn’t simply made a strategic decision to eschew the argument that the case was time-barred.
Scott raised the possibility that Belfield didn’t argue to quash the aggravated oral sexual battery charge because, if it had been thrown out, then-District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro could have filed an aggravated kidnapping charge instead, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison rather than 15 years.
Reached by phone after the hearing, Belfield admitted that he had been ineffective in defending Ladmirault and said he should have had the charges thrown out because of it. He said the DA never raised the specter of an aggravated kidnapping charge and it never factored into his defense strategy. He called Scott’s argument “just slick lawyering.”
After the judge ruled and sent Ladmirault back to prison, a teary-eyed Gaines hugged Scott in the hallway outside the courtroom. Scott responded: "Don't thank me. He messed up."
For Gaines, maybe one loophole deserves another.
“This time he didn't get out,” she said on the courthouse steps. “Thank God and thank the justice system for really putting the time and effort in.”
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