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Prosecutors' Morbid Neckties Add to Criticism
The New York Times ^ | 01-05-03 | JEFFREY GETTLEMAN

Posted on 01/05/2003 8:59:07 AM PST by Pharmboy

Picture credit:Jonathan Cohen for The New York Times
Lawrence Jacobs, whose son will be retried on capital
murder charges, said prosecutors made light of the
death penalty with their neckwear, which featured
images of the Grim Reaper and a noose

NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 3 — When Lawrence Jacobs walked into the courtroom a few weeks ago, he couldn't believe his eyes. There was a noose swinging from the prosecutor's chest.

Mr. Jacobs's son is being tried on capital murder charges. The noose was on a necktie.

Then he saw it again. This time two prosecutors were wearing ghoulish ties, one with a dangling rope, the other with an image of the Grim Reaper.

"That's when it really hit me," Mr. Jacobs said. "These guys are out to kill my son. And they're making light of it."

The prosecutors said the neckties were jokes. But their boss did not find it funny.

"Totally inappropriate," said Paul D. Connick Jr., the district attorney of Jefferson Parish, a suburb of New Orleans. "And unprofessional. I told them: `Don't wear those two ties to work. No nooses, no Grim Reapers.' "

There was no further discipline, and defense lawyers say the neckties are simply the latest proof of a racially tinged, bloodthirsty culture at the Jefferson district attorney's office, which has put more people on Louisiana's death row in recent years than any other parish.

Until recently, lawyers noted each lethal injection by handing out plaques decorated with hypodermic needles.

Yet prosecutors in Jefferson Parish, which actually has a low murder rate, are not alone in what apparently is a relish for capital punishment. It seems to be part of prosecutorial machismo in many places, especially in the South. In East Baton Rouge, 75 miles away, the district attorney celebrates death sentences with office parties, replete with steak and Jim Beam.

In Texas, one district attorney formed a "Silver Needle Society" while another one hung a noose over her office door.

In Mississippi, a former assistant attorney general had a toy electric chair on his desk that buzzed.

Defense lawyers concede that they make jokes too. It is inevitable when dealing with such heavy issues as life and death, said Sarah Ottinger, a New Orleans defense lawyer.

"But taking that humor out of the office and into the courtroom is another story," Ms. Ottinger said.

Several legal scholars concurred.

"It's a solemn event when the state decides that they want to kill one of their citizens," said Dane Ciolino, a Loyola University Law School professor. "To be cute and flippant about it clearly is wrong."

Jefferson is one of the most conservative parishes in Louisiana. It is where David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, was elected state representative in 1987. Four years later, he began his nearly successful campaign for governor from the subdivisions here.

While New Orleans, across the river, is two-thirds black, Jefferson Parish is two-thirds white.

This is where Lawrence Jacobs Jr. got into trouble in October 1996. Mr. Jacobs, then 16, and a childhood friend, Roy Bridgewater, then 17, both black, burst into an occupied home in Marrero, a white suburb. The teenagers stole guns and jewelry and raced away in a minivan. When police entered the ransacked house, they found two people, a 45-year-old man and his 70-year-old mother, slumped on the bed, shot to death.

It was never clear who pulled the trigger. Each teenager said the other did it.

The two were sent to trial during some of the bloodiest days in the Big Easy, when people were getting shot in the streets of the French Quarter for their leather jackets and there was a homicide practically every day.

In quick succession, each was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to die.

Juries here are not shy about capital punishment. In the last five years, Jefferson Parish has put 11 people on death row, compared with two from New Orleans. The suburban parish has far fewer murders than the city, 38 compared with 258 last year.

In 2001, Mr. Jacobs's case was overturned after the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that the trial judge had wrongly impaneled a juror who said the only punishment for murder was lethal injection.

As his new trial approaches, Mr. Jacobs, 22, is accusing prosecutors of racial bias on nearly every front, from who runs the courtrooms to who sits on the jury. Recently, his lawyers filed 91 pretrial motions. The one dealing with neckties, to be heard later this month, is called "Motion to prohibit prosecutors from wearing tasteless and improper garb in the courthouse."

According to defense lawyers, an assistant district attorney, Cameron Mary, wore a bright red tie with a six-inch white noose painted on it to several pretrial hearings last year. His colleague Donald Rowan was seen in a Grim Reaper tie at a number of hearings.

Mr. Connick said his prosecutors wore the ties "only a few times" and never in front of a jury.

The neckties were handmade gifts from the wife of another prosecutor.

Mr. Connick would not allow reporters to see the ties or speak to the prosecutors who wore them.

The silk accessories were first spotted by the elder Mr. Jacobs, a department store manager, who tries to attend all of his son's hearings. To him, they were clearly racist. Especially the noose.

"I mean, who else got strung up?" he asked.

The younger Mr. Jacobs said that at a recent hearing, one assistant district attorney turned to him and whispered: "We're going to hang you, boy."

Mr. Connick said he had not heard of this and would look into it.

Mr. Connick says the racism charge is what bothers him most.

"That's completely unwarranted," he said. "There's no selective prosecution here, and it's never based on race."

He pointed out that his outfit had come a long way in hiring blacks. When he took office in 1997, there were no African-American employees. Now, 9 percent of the lawyers and 20 percent of the investigators are members of minorities.

He also said he did not tolerate the type of punishment parties that his predecessors held.

Until a few years ago, every time a prosecutor won a death sentence, the office would take up a collection and buy a plaque. Each one had a needle on it and the condemned person's name, said Robert Burns, a retired Jefferson Parish judge, who saw them hanging in the chambers of a prosecutor turned judge.

But to the younger Mr. Jacobs, who marks time in Louisiana's Angola prison awaiting his retrial, it all looks hypocritical.

"I mean, these guys with their ties act like death is a joke," he said. "And that's what's crazy. They're the ones calling me a cold-blooded killer."


TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; Extended News; Government; News/Current Events; US: Louisiana
KEYWORDS: courtrooms; das; gallowshumor; murder
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To: Tacis
Does Sherrif Harry Lee still rule Jefferson Parish?

He didn't take any guff off of anyone.

JP had a low murder rate from '88-95 (the years I was in the area) for that reason above all others.

As for racism... Lee was CHINESE-AMERICAN.
21 posted on 01/05/2003 10:12:11 AM PST by demosthenes the elder
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To: proxy_user
It is true that it may be necessary to execute guys like this, but we should not take pleasure in it. We would have been much happier if he had not committed the crime in the first place.

Thank you. The death penalty is probably necessary. But that doesn't mean it is a matter for joking or celebration. God loves that murderer as much as he loves me. He has fallen so far that our society needs to take his life. I find no joy or humor in that.

This is as bad as the 'huzzahs' that burst forth whenever someone posts an article about a homeowner shooting an intruder. I am prepared to defend my family, with deadly force if necessary. But if that happens, and if I should find myself rejoicing in his death, I know it will be time to ask God's forgiveness.

22 posted on 01/05/2003 10:19:26 AM PST by ModelBreaker
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To: agrandis
I was ambivilent at first, and you and some others have clarified my position in this matter. I have come to the conclusion that you are correct. This type of discussion is what makes FR so great and truly allows one to see all different sides of issues so that one can make up their own mind.
23 posted on 01/05/2003 10:34:13 AM PST by M. Peach
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To: Pharmboy
I'd have a problem with this if it was a clip-on.
24 posted on 01/05/2003 10:36:35 AM PST by Tijeras_Slim
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To: motzman
How true , though it has always been that people
celebrate capitol punishment.
It should be used ( more than it is ) but
justice should be served quietly , quickly,
effectively , and with a solomn reverence.
25 posted on 01/05/2003 10:40:06 AM PST by squibs
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To: M. Peach
In AZ they would have both got it...
26 posted on 01/05/2003 10:47:31 AM PST by sabe@q.com
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To: Pharmboy
" simply the latest proof of a racially tinged, bloodthirsty culture ....

"are not alone in what apparently is a relish for capital punishment. It seems to be part of prosecutorial machismo in many places, especially in the South. In East Baton Rouge, 75 miles away, the district attorney celebrates death sentences with office parties, replete with steak and Jim Beam. "

"Bloodthirsty culture,relish for capital punishment,prosecutorial machismo,especially in the South"- The NYT tries to paint a picture of the prosecutors as knuckle dragging,KKK members,who get aroused at the thought of the electric chair!! Did Maureen Dowd write this?? Maybe this pro criminal NYT writer should spend some time in a prosecutor's office. He'll see crime scene photos that will haunt him forever,he'll see the families ,especially the mothers of the victims, begging him to find justice for their child and maybe he can even go to the morgue and actually see the victim.And in many,many cases-the victims will be black.And when he goes to court,he can see a smirking,unrepetant and cocky defendant. Why do the eastern liberals at the NYT only demand justice for Matthew Shepard and not for an inner city teenager, who was stabbed in the back,because he refused to submit to a street robbery? Does the NYT only support the death penalty, if the victim was white and gay? Why does the NYT think it's wrong for the prosecutors to have a steak and a drink,after winning a case? Didn't OJ's Dream Team,do the same thing-now,that was offensive !
27 posted on 01/05/2003 10:49:16 AM PST by Wild Irish Rogue
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To: motzman
He's the prosecutor... its the jury and judge's job to administer justice...
28 posted on 01/05/2003 10:49:20 AM PST by sabe@q.com
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To: ModelBreaker
We don't need this kind of bloodthirsty behaviour from our prosecutors. I think that this kind of juvenile crass disregard for the system of justice is way over the top. Sure, a high five behind closed doors is OK, I guess, but steak and bourbon? Plaques with needles on them? These jerks need to practice some solemnity when dealing with these cases. There is no need to fan the flames of racism on either side; all that will accomplish is making it more difficult to mete out justice.
My second problem: the system of prosecution rewards convictions, not truth. Something has got to change in a big way, so we can have a little more confidence in the system. I don't personally support the death penalty in America at this time. The numerous individuals exonerated under what are usually very obvious cases of innocence has changed my mind on this issue.
Give me a prosecutorial system that encourages and rewards honesty and truth, with noone getting the needle without solid forensic evidence, and I will gladly support the ultimate punishment.
29 posted on 01/05/2003 10:49:23 AM PST by CalvaryJohn
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To: CalvaryJohn
I agree, the views I am seeing here turn my stomach as well. Some of you really need to pay attention to that hot feeling on the back of your neck. It's called SHAME.
30 posted on 01/05/2003 10:53:59 AM PST by CalvaryJohn
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To: marajade
I know you might say that right now, but I'll give you a hypothetical and see if you can honestly respond back to me?

You were having a relationship with another, and her spurned lover (previously unknown to you) entered the room and shot her. There were no other witnesses, testimony and evidence could expulcate neither of you.

What would you then think of your ruling?
31 posted on 01/05/2003 11:04:41 AM PST by M. Peach
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To: marajade
I know you might say that right now, but I'll give you a hypothetical and see if you can honestly respond back to me?

You were having a relationship with another, and her spurned lover (previously unknown to you) entered the room and shot her. There were no other witnesses, testimony and evidence could expulcate neither of you.

What would you then think of your ruling?
32 posted on 01/05/2003 11:04:42 AM PST by M. Peach
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To: CalvaryJohn
If the prosecuter is representing ME, the PEOPLE, I want him to WANT to put that sonavabitch to death. I want him to eat it, sleep it, love it. The defendant has an attorney who should be that devoted to him, the judge keeps order, the jury decides. If you don't like that system, don't murder anyone.
33 posted on 01/05/2003 11:10:22 AM PST by Republic of Texas
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To: Republic of Texas
Your hypothetical doesn't wash. There is the eyewitness(me) and ballistic forensics. Try again, you sophomore.
34 posted on 01/05/2003 11:15:22 AM PST by CalvaryJohn
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To: M. Peach
At least the murderer of my love would go down with me.
35 posted on 01/05/2003 11:31:18 AM PST by ExpandNATO
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To: CalvaryJohn
Welcome to Free Republic, CalvaryJohn, FR Member since 2002-12-21!

Perhaps your views would be better appreciated on sobsistersunited.com!

36 posted on 01/05/2003 12:12:31 PM PST by albee
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To: M. Peach
Law isn't based on hypotheticals... In AZ we have a capital murder statute where it doesn't matter who pulls the trigger... if two are suspects are involved in the case, they both get charged...
37 posted on 01/05/2003 12:15:32 PM PST by sabe@q.com
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To: marajade
I realize the law isn't based on hypotheticals, but I'm asking you to (for the sake of this conversation) put yourself in the position I just referenced.

If in fact the laws in Arizona provide for what you just stated, would you feel that the law was fair, and would you agree that you should die for being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

I know this is a tough one, but be honest.
38 posted on 01/05/2003 12:23:40 PM PST by M. Peach
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To: M. Peach
Actually I like the law myself...

Like Forrest Gump says: stupid is as stupid does...

That includes the company one keeps...
39 posted on 01/05/2003 12:26:18 PM PST by sabe@q.com
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To: CalvaryJohn
" Your hypothetical doesn't wash. There is the eyewitness(me) and ballistic forensics. Try again, you sophomore. "

I didn't post a hypothetical. And yes, after your snide, incorrect and irrelevant comment back to me, that burning feeling on the back of YOUR neck, is called SHAME.

40 posted on 01/05/2003 12:31:26 PM PST by Republic of Texas
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