Jury still out for New Orleans policemen

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Retired New Orleans police sergeant Arthur Kaufman enters federal court Monday, July 11, in New Orleans.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — Jurors deliberated for several hours Wednesday without deciding the fate of five current or former police officers charged in deadly shootings on a New Orleans bridge in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Deliberations are scheduled to resume Thursday. U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt read instructions about the 25-count indictment before the jury began deliberating Wednesday after weeks of testimony and several hours of closing arguments.

Prosecutors contend the officers shot unarmed people without justification and without warning, killing two and wounding four others Sept. 5, 2005, then embarked on a cover-up involving made-up witnesses, falsified reports and a planted gun.

Defense attorneys countered that the officers were returning fire on the city’s Danziger Bridge and reasonably believed their lives were in danger as they rushed to respond to another officer’s distress call less than a week after Katrina.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Theodore Carter said in closing arguments that police had no justification for shooting unarmed, defenseless people.

“It was unreasonable for these officers to fire even one shot, let alone dozens,” he told jurors.

All told, jurors heard five weeks of testimony by roughly 60 witnesses in the Justice Department’s case against former officer Robert Faulcon, Sgts. Robert Gisevius and Kenneth Bowen, Officer Anthony Villavaso and retired Sgt. Arthur Kaufman.

Faulcon, Gisevius, Bowen and Villavaso are charged with civil rights violations in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old James Brissette on the east side of the bridge. Faulcon also is charged with gunning down 40-year-old Ronald Madison, a mentally disabled man, on the west side.

All four of those officers also are charged with taking part in the alleged cover-up. Kaufman, who investigated the shootings, is charged only in the alleged cover-up.

If the officers are convicted in the shootings, jurors must decide if the deaths “involve circumstances constituting murder,” which would carry stiffer prison sentences.

Printed on Thursday, August 4, 2011 as: Jurors complete first day in Katrina shooting trial