In a decision handed down from a Louisiana appellate court this week, prosecutors from St. Tammany Parish, also known as “St. Slammany” Parish, Louisiana, have once again shown that their office’s win-at-all-costs attitude results in a pattern of misconduct. The case, State v. Murphy, involves a man named Donald Murphy who was convicted in 2012 of several counts of possessing child pornography and solicitation and was sentenced to multiple 99-year terms of imprisonment. He appealed on several counts, including the fact that the prosecutor made prejudicial comments about the defendant during the course of the trial.
For example, in closing arguments, the prosecutor admonished the jury to “Send a message to the community with your verdict.” The prosecutor also implied that the defendant had committed other crimes for which he was not being charged, saying “he is only charged with four, you will see a lot more than four, which could have been additional counts of production of pornography involving a juvenile.”
The prosecutors, District Attorney Warren Montgomery (who was elected in 2014) and Matthew Caplan, were censured by the trial court judge at the time of trial, although no mistrial was granted. On appeal, the Louisiana Appellate Court’s decision criticized Montgomery and Caplan for “continuous inappropriate comments and unprofessional conduct after multiple warnings from the trial court,” and said the comments “were iniquitous and certainly merit reprimand.” (The appellate court did not revise the conviction, finding that there was sufficient evidence of the defendant’s guilty.)
Certainly, St. Tammany Parish is infamous for its attack-style prosecution and for rewarding an especially hard-nosed prosecutor with the “St. Slammany” award for “his skill at sending nonviolent offenders to prison.” St. Tammany has one of the highest incarceration levels in Louisiana, earning it the nickname “St. Slammany.”
Some of this reputation is thanks to the former D.A. Walter Reed, who stated that his “general philosophy” was to “identify the bad guys, bad people,” and “use the resources of this office to get rid of them for as long as we can.” ADA John Alford, who won the St. Slammany award, previously worked in New Orleans where he withheld evidence in a 2009 wrongful capital murder case that resulted in New Orleans’ first death sentence in over a decade. The case was overturned just a few months later, in 2010, when federal prosecutors identified the correct suspect.
The St. Tammany Parish D.A.’s office itself has been found to have withheld exculpatory evidence, leading to the wrongful conviction of Gerald Burge for second-degree murder. D.A. Reed oversaw Burge’s second trial, in which he was acquitted. At the end of his thirty year career, Reed was convicted of 18 federal charges, including wire fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering. D.A. Warren Montgomery won his bid in 2014 to take Reed’s seat and campaigned as a “reformer” who would buck the “St. Slammany” reputation. Yet it seems overzealousness in the office has not changed under D.A. Montgomery and the reputation of St. Slammany continues.