Skip to comments.Prosecutors' Morbid Neckties Add to Criticism
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."
"Don't do the crime if you can't do the time."
I know of a case that was overturned partly because of what a judge did in front of the jury. A child testified against the defendant. When she finished her testimony, the judge (N.O. Judge Miriam Waltzer) reportedly gave her a little bag of candy, and a smile. The judge didn't do this b/c she liked the content of the child's testimony, she was just being nice, I think.
It was successfully argued that this action, done in front of the jury, might have suggested to them that the judge (the authority figure) somehow approved of the child's testimony against the defendant, and that this testimony was thought by the judge to be especially good and believable.
Having said that, I agree with the poster who said, essentially, "The son ends too lives, and this father is offended by NECKTIES????" Hello? Two people were slaughtered in their home, and a necktie with a rope on it is deemed unbearably cruel? Come now.
This case has apparently passed the selection committee (being facetious, don't know if there is or isn't such a committee) of Amnesty Int'l. and The Worldwide Liberal Fraternal Organization--people who think that the only issue that has ever had any importance in the entire history of mankind is that some whites have been extremely mean to some black people during some eras. They have decided to make Lawrence Jacobs a cause celebre. Do a google on this D.A.'s name (Paul Connick) and you will find correspondence/coverage to and about him in Swedish, among other things. And you will find heartfelt letters about this case, written by British students. This is one of their fashionable "causes." Just like Mumia Abu Jamal.
And look at the defiant stance of that father in that picture. Maybe he's one of those parents who, when their little darling got in some minor trouble, always assumed it was the teacher or storekeeper or rec center manager who was "picking on" their son. The type of parent who goes down to the school, store, or rec center in high dudgeon, to give that adult "a piece of my mind." That sort of upbringing, in which your parent is always telling you you are the victim of some mean authority figure, can indeed create a monster.
I guess Dad doesn't concede that it was his son who actually murdered the people. But no one seems to deny that they robbed them. Isn't he the least bit ashamed that his son would violently rob someone?
"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." In other words, they were working in concert. Together. As partners. They came in together, and they left together.
In your hypothetical, one person does the crime, unknown to the other person, who then appears on the scene and is thought to have done the crime. That's a very different situation.
In fact, that difference would certainly be noted when it came down to deciding whether the law considered the two people to be equally guilty.
I know of a case in which a group of about 5 black teenagers burst into a black home. In the home were a number of middle-aged black adults. They were using drugs. The "teens" made them all strip down to their underwear. They robbed them. The "teens" had some big, powerful guns. Then the "teens" fled. As the little gang was running away, some of the victims came to the door and started shooting at them. Some of the "teens" shot back as they were running away. One of the "teens" (the robbers) was shot dead in his tracks. Guess who went on trial for murder, because of his death? His fellow robbers. Yes--even though the bullet came from the gun of one of the victims. It was their robbery scheme that, in the beginning, caused the "teen's" death. No one would have been shooting at them if they hadn't been running away from a violent robbery.
Again, its just my opinion but this is more evidence, as if any were needed, that lawyers are NOT all smart people.
You beat me to it. That stuck out like a sore thumb.