For a second day in a row, an Orleans Parish Criminal Court judge has pushed back a long-anticipated trial in a 1991 rape case, leaving the alleged victim frustrated.
LaToya Gaines arrived at the courthouse Monday, hopeful that a jury would finally come to a verdict in the aggravated sexual battery case against Gerard Ladmirault. Gaines accused Ladmirault of forcing her to perform oral sex on him on Oct. 16, 1991, when he was 28 and she was 14, and she testified in two previous trials that ended in hung juries.
“I need for people to know and understand what’s going on, and the severity of it all. It’s very scary, because justice is in their hands,” she said Monday morning, on her way into the courthouse.
But Judge Keva Landrum-Johnson pushed the trial back to Tuesday after Ladmirault’s defense attorney and prosecutors expressed concern that WWL-TV’s coverage of the case could taint the jury pool. The judge did not bother to screen prospective jurors to see if they had seen the station’s report or had been influenced by it before imposing the first delay.
(Story continues under video of David Hammer's original report on the case that aired on WWL-TV Sunday. Can't see the video? Click here)
Back in court Tuesday, there was a new reason for delaying the trial. Landrum-Johnson admonished both sides for filing several motions over the weekend and on Monday. The judge said she had not studied the record from the previous trials, which were held in Judge Laurie White’s court.
“These are not motions I can address overnight,” she said Tuesday.
Landrum-Johnson reset the trial for Oct. 16 – coincidentally 27 years to the day after the alleged incident.
Gaines said she was “sickened and saddened” when she heard about the second delay.
The shifting reasons for the delays are curious given the extensive record in the case. The motions filed Monday are mostly the same as ones filed by both sides in the previous trials, in 2015 and 2016.
As it had in those trials, the state wanted to prohibit any mention of Gaines’ sexual history at the time of the incident.
Rape shield laws are supposed to prevent a victim’s sexual history from being raised at trial, but Ladmirault’s defense attorney, David Belfield, has tried in previous trials to call attention to the birthdate of Gaines’ oldest son. He was born in March 1992, meaning she was already pregnant and, therefore, sexually active when the alleged sexual battery occurred.
Prosecutors also filed a motion to present testimony from Ta-Tanisha Smith, an Atlanta woman who alleged Ladmirault raped her on Aug. 16, 1991, 60 days before the alleged incident with Gaines. Her testimony was allowed by White in 2015 and 2016 under a criminal procedure that allows prosecutors to establish a pattern of criminal behavior.
But Ladmirault’s defense attorney, David Belfield, asked for time to respond to the state’s request in writing. Ladmirault was already found not guilty in the Smith case, and the defense questions how it could show a pattern of behavior if he was acquitted in 1992.
“The gentleman was tried by a jury of his peers,” Belfield told WWL-TV last month. Smith “testified, and everything she said in (Gaines’) trial, she said in her trial. And when we presented the other evidence against her, a jury found this gentleman not guilty.”
But while trying to include Smith’s testimony, prosecutors also asked Landrum-Johnson to exclude any references to the outcome of previous trials, including the not-guilty verdict in Smith’s case.
Belfield objected to that Tuesday. He also filed a motion asking to bar any testimony about semen found on the alleged victim. Gaines claims the police took semen samples from her face when she first reported the alleged crime. Now she says the rape kit was lost in Hurricane Katrina. Belfield says the results of the report are still available and support his client’s claim that he never had any sexual encounter with Gaines.
“The report does not find any of this gentleman’s sperm on that young lady,” Belfield said. “And so, it didn’t find it in 1991, and they’re not going to find it in 2018. Because it doesn’t exist.”
Landrum-Johnson told both sides to respond to the motions by Aug. 28.
Belfield again complained that WWL-TV had covered the open court proceedings Monday. Landrum-Johnson said the jury-selection process known as voir dire would have to weed out any potential jurors who had been influenced by news coverage.
“I can’t tell a news person or any organization they can’t air a story,” she said. But she quickly added that prosecutors should instruct the alleged victim not to discuss the facts of the case any further before trial.
Judge Landrum-Johnson said there would be no further delays.