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Vincent Simmons has been imprisoned at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for 40 years for a crime that he almost certainly did not commit and our vaunted system of justice is largely responsible for his inability to get a fair hearing.

The timeline of events alone should be reason enough to have granted him a new trial decades ago. Yet, he continues to languish at “the farm,” the name bestowed upon Angola in a 1998 documentary about Louisiana’s notorious maximum-security prison.

For openers, the time between public defender Harold Brouillette’s filing of a motion for preliminary hearing and Simmons’s conviction was an astonishingly short interval of only 27 days, hardly sufficient time to put on any semblance of a defense.

Normally, it takes much longer between an accused’s arrest and his trial. This is so defense attorneys can compile a list of witnesses, engage expert testimony, and obtain all evidence possessed by prosecutors. Sexual assault cases typically take SIX MONTHS between indictment and trial, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

It took half that long for the supposed victims to come forward and report that they’d been raped.

Here is the TIMELINE of events:

Monday, May 7, 1977—Twin 14-year-old sisters are riding around with their 18-yeaar-old cousin, Keith Laborde when they allegedly encountered an unknown black man at a 7-Eleven convenience store who asked them to give him a ride to his home. En route, he pulls a gun and forces Laborde to drive down a remote country road to a spot near a lake and there rapes the two girls.

Sunday, May 22, 1977—The two girls report—for the first time—to Sheriff “Potch” Didier, Maj. Fablus Didier, Capt. Floyd Juneau and Deputy Barbara DeCuir at the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff’s Office that a “black man” raped them on May 9, 1977.

7 a.m., Monday, May 23, 1977—Shift begins for Juneau and Lt. Robert Laborde (Laborde is a cousin of Keith Laborde).

8 a.m., Monday May 23, 1977—Juneau and Laborde make the decision to arrest Vincent Simmons.

9 a.m., Monday May 23, 1977—Simmons is walking down Waddil Street in Marksville when Juneau and Laborde, passing by on patrol, arrest him—without a warrant—on two counts of aggravated rape. Sheriff Didier orders a lineup. The lineup consists of seven blacks and one white. Of the eight men in the lineup, Simmons is the only one in handcuffs. Keith Laborde and the two girls observe the lineup from behind a mirror and pick out Simmons even though the girls had said all black men looked alike to them. Simmons is taken upstairs but is never interrogated. When Simmons refuses to sign a confession that had already been prepared by Laborde, he is shot in his left chest by Laborde. Laborde and Capt. Melvin Villemarette claim that Simmons took Villemarette’s gun and tried to shoot them, though he is never charged with that offense. Simmons is transferred to Huey P. Long Hospital in Pineville. Judge Earl Edwards now issues the warrant for the arrest of Simmons for the rape of the girls.

Tuesday, May 24, 1977—Coroner F.P. Bordelon, MD, examines both girls and discovers that one of the girl’s hymen is still intact, indicating she is still a virgin. The other girl admits to having had consensual sexual intercourse nine months earlier.

Friday, May 27, 1977—Simmons is released from the hospital and he is transferred back to the Avoyelles Parish jail.

Friday June 30, 1977—An Avoyelles Parish grand jury indicts Simmons on two counts of aggravated rape and two counts of attempted murder. Dr. Bordelon formulates his findings about his medical examination of the two girls and sends report to District Attorney Eddie Knoll. During trial of Simmons, jurors never learn of the existence of this report.

Thursday, June 23, 1977—Public defender Harold Brouillette, later to be elected a state district court judge, files a motion for a preliminary hearing. Judge Edwards orders that a preliminary hearing be held in the case of State of Louisiana vs. Vincent Simmons on the two counts of aggravated rape at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, July 7, 1977.

Wednesday, June 29, 1977—U.S. Supreme Court rules in Coker v. Georgia that the death penalty is unconstitutional for the crime of rape. This means that pursuant to the decision, the penalty for aggravated rape is only 20 years per count as opposed to attempted aggravated rape, for which no penalties had been set.

Thursday, July 7, 1977—At the 1 p.m. preliminary hearing, Judge Edwards schedules Simmons’s trial for July 18, 1977, giving Brouillette only 11 days to prepare for trial. This is known as a court’s “rocket docket,” whereby certain cases are moved to the top of the court’s list of scheduled cases.

Thursday, July 14, 1977—Assistant District Attorney Jeanette Knoll, wife of District Attorney Eddie Knoll, files a motion to amend the indictment to two counts of attempted aggravated rape. Judge Edwards signs the motion behind closed doors—without a second grand jury hearing. This opens the way for prosecutors to seek penalties of 50 years imprisonment for each count of attempted aggravated rape. Jeanette Knoll would later be elected to the Louisiana State Supreme Court.

Monday, July 18, 1977—Jury selection begins in the trial of Vincent Simmons.

Tuesday, July 19, 1977, and Wednesday, July 20, 1977—Two-day trial of Vincent Simmons is held, concluding in a guilty verdict on each count of attempted aggravated rape.

Thursday, July 28, 1977—Judge Earl Edwards imposes a 100-year sentence (50 years for each count, to run consecutively) on Simmons.

So, there you have it: a delayed report of rape to the suspiciously quick arrest, an equally quick trial that made it impossible for a public defender with no funds to retain expert witnesses or to conduct extensive investigations, to the manipulation of charges so as to obtain the maximum punishment for a crime that Simmons most likely never committed. The fast track his case was put on—with such an obvious lack of supporting evidence—makes it appear that authorities were almost desperate in their haste to run him through the system and get a conviction. To think those charged with protecting our rights and freedoms would stoop to such tactics should send a chill down all our spines for who’s to say we might not be the next to undergo such treatment at the hands of the law and order advocates?

Someone coined the phrase “Justice delayed is justice denied.” This rings especially true in the case of Vincent Simmons. Justice for him has been delayed for 40 years—and counting. His story and sadly, as is true of so many others like him, is the type justice that a defendant might expect to encounter when he doesn’t have:

  • Money;
  • Connections;
  • A name that screams influence;
  • Highly-paid attorneys;
  • The right color skin.

For an example of all the above, see LOUIS ACKEL.

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So, just why didn’t the officials at the Department of Corrections transport Vincent Simmons to Marksville for Wednesday’s hearing?

Or better yet, what do prosecutors of the 12th Judicial District have to fear? Are they trying to cover for Eddie Knoll’s mistake? A mistake that has cost Vincent Simmons 40 years of his life?

Most probably, it’s just a matter of someone at Angola State Penitentiary dropping the ball, says New Orleans attorney Robert Hjortsberg.

A hearing was scheduled to be held on Wednesday on a motion by Hjortsberg to recuse Judge Kerry Spruill for a hearing on Simmons’s application for post-conviction relief. Hjortsberg wants Judge Spruill recused because of his association with Knoll, who originally prosecuted Simmons in 1977.

But officials at Angola inexplicably failed to transport Simmons to Marksville even though they “assured us he was going to be here,” Hjortsberg said on Wednesday after the Angola no-show. “In fact, my office also called to make sure he was going to be here because there is a lot of people, including myself, who have come from all over the place in order to be here to support him.”

Vincent was convicted for attempted aggravated rape of twin 14-year-old white girls in 1977 on the basis of what Hjortsberg says was “flawed and contradictory testimony” and in spite of there being no physical evidence of any description against Simmons.

Among the discrepancies that cast doubt on Simmons’s guilt:

  • The girls waited two weeks to report the incident;
  • There was never any physical evidence that the rapes occurred;
  • No forensic tests were carried out on the clothing of the alleged victims, Simmons’s clothing, or the interior of the car in which they said the rapes occurred;
  • The doctor who examined the girls reported that he found no signs of injury on either girl and that one of the girls was still a virgin two weeks after the supposed rapes;
  • Simmons was convicted on July 24, 1977. Yet, on June 10, some six weeks earlier, Dr. F.P. Bordelon, Jr. wrote of his examination of one of the girls, “There was (sic) no bruises on her body. The vaginal examination showed that the hymen was intact.” Contents of Dr. Bordelon’s letter were never admitted into testimony during the trial. That’s exculpatory evidence and grounds for a new trial;
  • The girls initially said they did not know their attacker’s name but testified in court that he had told them his name before assaulting them;
  • The girls said they would not be able to pick out their assailant “because all black men looked the same” to them;
  • Yet, they later picked Simmons out of a police lineup in which he was the only one handcuffed;
  • The police investigation reports did not include a single lead pointing to Simmons, yet he was picked off the street and charged with the crime;
  • Two reports by the same police officer written 24 hours apart gave two completely different locations of the place of arrest;
  • There is no indication that police, at any point, had an official interview with Simmons or that he gave any statement. Yet, when he was arrested and taken into custody, a police officer who was related to Keith Laborde, the supposed victims’ cousin, shot Simmons in the chest, nearly killing him;
  • Police claimed that Simmons disarmed one of the officers and attempted to shoot him but his gun misfired. Yet, this was not mentioned at trial, nor was he ever charged with resisting arrest any other crime related to that claim;
  • The arresting police officers never testified at trial;
  • No pre-trial or investigations by Simmons’s court-appointed legal counsel were ever made;

Simmons has been attempting to win an evidentiary hearing for several decades but the state has never afforded him one.

Simmons’s application for post-conviction relief has offered another piece of exculpatory evidence that was in the prosecution’s possession but never revealed to the jury.

“Recently, Vincent Simmons became aware of an affidavit signed by Pamela Jones, a witness present at the J&J Snack Bar the night of the alleged rapes,” Hjortsberg says in the application. “The withheld information given by Pamela Jones was known by the state because they and/or their agents are the ones that initially acquired the information.”

The rapes allegedly occurred when the girls said they were abducted at a 7-Eleven convenience store by Simmons who then forced Laborde, their 18-year-old cousin, to drive down a remote dirt road where they said they were raped near a lake.

Hjortsberg said that after Jones heard about Simmons’s arrest, she called the District Attorney’s office, gave her name and number, and explained that she knew that Simmons could not have committed the crime. “She was told that someone from the state would contact her, which never happened,” he wrote in his motion.

“After the phone call, Pamela followed up by going to the District Attorney’s office to tell them her side of the story,” he said. When she arrived, she was met by a white male who identified himself as an investigator. “He told Pamela that someone would get in touch with her in a few days to get her statement because there was no one present in the office to take it at the time. No one from the District Attorney’s office ever contacted her again.

“…At least one other individual that described himself as an investigator had knowledge of this information and never turned it over to defense counsel or notified them that the statement had been made.

“This favorable evidence related to Pamela Jones’s statement clearly shows that the Avoyelles Parish District Attorney’s office was aware of the evidence because they are the ones that heard the statements initially. Furthermore,” Hjortsberg says, “the prosecutor in this matter, Edward Knoll, was responsible for disclosing this favorable evidence even if he was unaware of it.”

The trial transcript and official court records shows “that the jury heard nothing about Pamela Jones and the fact that she saw Vincent at the J&J Snack Bar,” the motion says. “Pamela was never subpoenaed nor called as a witness. She also states in her signed affidavit that she never testified at trial nor did she speak to Vincent’s defense counsel. It would be inexplicable for the defense not to have used this evidence if they in fact had it in their possession at the time of the trial.”

Hjortsberg says, “A series of unorthodox and unexplained actions by the Avoyelles Parish District Attorney’s office prevented any reasonable possibility that Vincent Simmons’s trial attorney could have learned of the favorable evidence. Despite the fact that the office was called and physically approached by Pamela Jones—yet never documented her testimony nor made any mention of it to defense counsel—shows that they not only were aware of this favorable evidence but willfully withheld it from the defense.

“The state of Pamela Jones gives a detailed account of what time and day she arrived at the J&J Snack Bar, when Vincent arrived at the snack bar, what time Vincent arrived, what Vincent was doing when he arrived, and finally, what time Vincent left the bar, the motion says.

“The evidence withheld by the state would have been favorable to Vincent because it could have been used at trial to exculpate him—by demonstrating that Vincent could not have been in two places at once.”

Hjortsberg says that in Simmons’s case, the suppressed evidence “discredits the caliber and reliability of the state’s investigation and prosecution of Vincent, because it shows that the state zeroed in on one suspect with little to no investigation despite the weakness of the evidence against him. The suppressed evidence shows that investigators were aware that a credible alibi witness had come forward on Vincent’s behalf and (they) did nothing. It further shows that they had no interest in finding who actually committed these acts but rather focused solely on closing the case as quickly as possible.”

He said that while he is disappointed at the failure of prison officials to follow through on transporting Simmons to his hearing, “The hearing will be held and I’m confident that Vincent will be granted a new trial based on this new information and I don’t think he will be convicted again.”

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To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, there Jerry Larpenter goes again.

Larpenter, the controversial sheriff and apparent strong man of Terrebonne Parish, seems to make decisions on the fly, a-la Donald Trump, about what is and what is not illegal in his parish, established laws be damned. And make no mistake, he is convinced it’s his parish.

Larpenter’s most recent dust-up is over the provision of security in the parish courthouse—which he refuses to do despite laws on the books that clearly say that is part of his job.

The result of his refusal is that the Houma Police Department is now performing security at the Terrebonne Parish governmental building and parish courthouse—all with the blessings of Parish President/Environmental Watchdog Gordon Dove GORDON DOVE.

Dove, while serving in the State Legislature as Chairman, of all things, of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment, managed to get one of his companies, Vacco Marine, Inc., cited on several occasions by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), a feat almost impossible to accomplish in Louisiana. Another company, Dual Trucking, was cited by the Montana Department of Environmental Equality for dumping radioactive waste from the nearby Bakken Oilfield in neighboring North Dakota.

Rumor has it—and this is strictly the word on the street, which more often than not, has more than a grain of truth to it—that 32nd Judicial District Court Judge Randal Bethancourt wanted more security details assigned to the courthouse in beautiful downtown Houma.

This is the same Judge Bethancourt who, apparently without consulting a law book about probable cause or the First Amendment, signed off on a warrant that allowed the high sheriff to come calling on an Internet blogger sometime around dawn to seize computers, cellphones and other electronic equipment—for no other reason than he was pissed because the blogger said some uncomplimentary things about him and the political establishment of Terror-bonne Parish.

To read the LouisianaVoice story of the infamous Free Speech Raid, click HERE.

After a federal court ruled the raid and seizure of the electronic equipment unconstitutional, the blogger, Houma policeman Wayne Anderson and his wife filed suit against the sheriff who SETTLED out of court for an unknown but substantial sum.

Apparently, if the scuttlebutt is correct, Larpenter said no to the request for additional security and he and His Honor got into something akin to a minor verbal war that ended with Larpenter telling Bethancourt that it was the judge’s fault that he, Larpenter, had to lay out some major cash on the Andersons, forgetting, apparently, that it was he, not the good judge, who asked for the search warrant in the first place.

Larpenter must have also forgotten for the moment that he didn’t have to pay a dime of the judgement—or his attorney bills. Those were covered by his office’s liability insurance policy.

But hey, we already said Larpenter thinks and acts a lot like Trump so this is validation of that descriptive analysis.

And just as with the raid on the Andersons was unconstitutional, Larpenter’s refusal to provide courthouse security appears to be at loggerheads with what the law says his duties are.

State statutes leave little wiggle room when they say:

  • “Court criers are to be provided by the sheriff of each parish to each district judge.”
  • “The crier of a court (notice this is not restricted to Orleans) shall attend all sessions thereof, under the direction of the judge shall open and close court at each session, and maintain order and decorum in the court room, and shall perform such other duties as are assigned to him by law, the court, or the sheriff.” (emphasis added)
  • “Each sheriff or deputy shall attend every court that is held in his parish…”
  • “Security in the courthouse is the responsibility of governing authority (Gordon Dove), but an agreement may be made between the parish officers and the building to share the expenses.”
  • “The principal functions of the criminal sheriff are that of being keeper of parish jail and executive officer of the Criminal District Court.”

And then there is Opinion 12-0187 of the Louisiana Attorney General’s office dated Feb. 7, 2013 which says in part:

“…security provided in the courthouse is the responsibility of the parish governing authority under this statutory regime…” and that “…the governing body of the parish shall pay to the sheriff or his deputies attending upon the sessions of their respective courts of appeal and district courts…” Click HERE to read the full opinion:

Even the Texas Judicial Council addressed the issue in a 2016 REPORT on Court Security. Of course, policies in Texas and other states have no bearing on what Louisiana policy regarding courthouse/courtroom security. Still, it’s significant to note that the report says:

“The sheriff in each county is responsible for providing courthouse security.5 The municipal governing body is responsible for doing so in municipal court buildings. While the judiciary itself does not have responsibility or authority for providing court security, it is often in the position to advocate for appropriate security to ensure that individuals in the courts are not threatened as they seek access to justice. In addition, sheriffs and municipalities are not generally responsible for providing direct security to judges and court personnel when they are away from a courthouse, unless specific circumstances warrant such. Rather, it is judges and court personnel who are responsible for ensuring their own safety.”

All of which, of course, means exactly nothing to Larpenter. After all, he makes up his own laws and who are we—or judges, for that matter—to question that authority?

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