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Archive for April, 2022

A petition for post-conviction relief in the case of Christopher Holder is currently pending before the Second Circuit Court of Appeal that addresses both the split-verdict held unconstitutional in the Evangelisto Ramos v. Louisiana case and the manner in which jury selection was carried out in Holder’s 26th Judicial District trial in 2014.

Neither the petition for post-conviction relief nor the report of handwriting expert Peggy Walla is part of the appeal process in the matter, but the split-verdict and jury venire questions certainly are.

Shreveport attorney A. M. “Marty” Stroud, III filed the petition which also claims that Holder had ineffective legal counsel at his trial and that there was no opportunity for Holder’s expert witness to testify at trial as to Holder’s mental state brought on by a host of prescription medication he had been taking for years at doctors’ orders.

Stroud gained national attention eight years ago when he successfully campaigned to free a man whom he had sent to death row some 30 years before.

Glenn Ford, dying of lung cancer, was exonerated in 2014 after nearly 30 years on death row, sent there by Stroud. Stroud even wrote a newspaper op-ed apologizing for his role in Ford’s conviction but a judge denied Ford restitution for his years of wrongful incarceration.

Now Stroud is working on behalf of Holder to combat a legal system that appears to be deeply flawed because of Holder’s 10-2 split jury conviction of second degree of his murder in 2012 and of the way the jury venire was set in the 26th JDC, which comprises the parishes of Bossier and Webster.

Louisiana and Oregon were the last holdouts in states that still recognized split-jury verdicts but that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court on April 20, 2020. Now, the Louisiana Supreme Court must decide if the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision should be retroactive to some 1500 prisoners in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, including Holder, who were similarly convicted.

Stroud noted that state law requires a jury pool of no fewer than 250 PETIT JURORS from which the trial jury will be chosen but in Holder’s case, there were only 124 and investigations have indicated many potential jurors were excused without having ever been informed their names were chosen for the general venire. “The venire was not selected in accordance with applicable law,” Stroud wrote in his petition.

Ineffective legal counsel was claimed by Stroud, who noted, “there was no objection to the jury venire.”

“The trial court erred in finding that the jury venires were properly selected in accordance with state law and the Constitution of the United States,” he said, adding, “There was no certification in this case attesting to the selection of the general and petit jury venire lists.

Dr. Gary Meas was scheduled to testify as to Holder’s mental state but had a conflict on the trial date and the court refused to reschedule the trial, which meant he was unable to testify even though included with his testimony “would have been his insanity evaluation addendum and assertion and a spread sheet showing that the numerous drugs had black box warnings not to administer these drugs to children under the age of 18 and subsequently changed to the age of 26 per directive of the Food and Drug Administration,” none of which evidence ever reached the jury.

Strout also argues that the 10-2 verdict convicting Holder “violated the uniformity requirement of the Sixth Amendment and that the trial court erred in holding that Ramos was not to be retroactively applied.

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Apparently, the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office in Gonzales is a restricted area.

Especially if you’re an unknown who happens to be carrying a camera.

Never mind that the sheriff’s office, the accompanying grounds and sidewalks and the Ascension Parish Courthouse are all public property. (The only places where cameras are not allowed are the courtrooms themselves and the clerk of court’s office – clerks of court got themselves exempted a few years back from the public records law which allows the free copying of public records because they like to hit you for a dollar a page.)

But back to our story about the sheriff’s office.

There’s this YouTube platform called We the People University operated by a former police officer and former deputy sheriff named Abiyah Israel, who sends crews out across the country to show how law enforcement officers routinely violate citizens’ rights by enforcing non-existent laws.

The undated video, taken from the vantage point of the reporter, was shot outside the office of Sheriff Bobby Webre in Gonzales and even though the reporter is obviously violating no law or ordinance, the presence of his camera apparently spooked officers who confronted him.

You can watch the full video HERE.

While initially met by only three officers of the Gonzales Police Department, their paranoia soon saw their number grow to about half-a-dozen fully uniformed officers demanding to know the reporter’s name and business – though he was under no legal obligation to provide any of that information since no laws had been broken.

There was no immediate explanation of why municipal police were guarding a parish sheriff’s office.

One officer, with the nametag T. Berkholz on his uniform shirt, demanded that the reporter “step off the property” as another, J.B. Dunaway, looked on.

“Step off the property?” the reporter repeated. “Is that a lawful order?”

“Yes, that is a lawful order,” Berkholz replied, repeating his order – even though it was not by any means a “lawful order.”

When the reporter attempted to get further clarification as to what was and what was not public property, Berkholz said, “I’m not gonna answer any more questions.” He then asked if the visitor had any identification.

“What do I need an ID for?” he was asked. “What law have I broken?”

Dunaway spoke for the first time then, saying, “I can tell you right now, this is not usual.”

“It may not be usual,” he was told, “but you’d better start getting used to it because people are going to start doing this more and more often. You’ve gotta learn you can’t be pushing people around like this.”

“What’s your point?” Dunaway asked and other officers began gathering, one of whom was videoing the reporter. Dunaway, meanwhile, adjusted his sunglasses.

“Transparency, accountability,” was the immediate response.

Another city officer, L. Stromberg, along with Berkholz began shouting and getting into the reporter’s face in an apparent effort to intimidate him. “Are you from Louisiana?” asked Stromberg – as if that was even relevant.

“I don’t answer questions,” the reporter said.

“There’s a law in Louisiana that says you have to identify yourself,” Stromberg said. There is no such law.

More officers and/or deputies began arriving, though no one seemed really sure what to do about this upstart in their midst. Mostly they just milled around, some with their thumbs in their multi-functional belts.

More sunglasses adjustments by officer C. Cannon. It seems they adjust their sunglasses a lot, much like Lt. Hortatio Caine on CSI Miami.

Eventually, the officers, after consulting with unidentified individuals (probably legal counsel), more or less backed off and allowed the reporter to enter the building after again cautioning him to remain away from any restricted areas.

Yes, the reporter, whoever he was, was testing the waters to see what deputies’ reactions would be to his videoing the building and yes, some might say he was seeking a confrontation.

But the bottom line is officers took the bait. They had several opportunities to relent and allow him to exercise his rights to be on public property because after all, he had broken no laws and certainly had not caused a disturbance.

Instead, they showed up in force and attempted to invoke non-existent laws in order to intimidate him, prompting the reporter to single out one deputy as needing re-training.

This mindset that a uniform and a badge give one the unbridled authority to run roughshod over citizens’ rights has simply got to change. Law enforcement officers are there to serve the public, not harass, browbeat and otherwise intimidate them with some macho show of force.

That is specifically why I wrote my book Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption. You can order your signed copy by clicking on the yellow DONATE button to the right of this post and paying $25 by credit card. Be sure to provide your mailing address if you do.

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Only two days left in our semi-annual fundraiser. I sincerely appreciate the support LouisianaVoice has enjoyed for the past 11 years and I look forward to continuing to keep watch over our public officials, especially Louisiana State Police and our courts.

It’s difficult for one person to initiate change – but I feel it’s unforgivable to simply look the other way – and I certainly don’t expect readers to agree with everything I write (some don’t seem to agree with any of it, but that’s okay, too). It’s anyone’s and everyone’s right to disagree and I would never deprive anyone of free expression as the governor of Florida seems so determined to do in that state – unless the comments are racist or obscene.

Ron DeSantis, in fact, is one of the reasons for this blog’s existence, but like anything else these days, it costs money for travel, to pay for documents, and in some cases to file suit to obtain documents.

Please help us in these final two days by clicking on the yellow DONATE button to contribute by credit card or you may mail a check to: Capital News Service, P.O. Box 922, Denham Springs, Loiuisiana 70727.

Those contributing $100 or more will get a signed copy of my newest book, It’s All TheIRS, the story of how the IRS, America’s only legalized terrorist organization, gets its come-uppance.

And, as they used to say in those old Bartles & James wine commercials: Thank you for your support.

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Counting today, there are only three days remaining for me to badger you about LouisianaVoice‘s semi-annual fundraising drive which ends on Saturday.

I don’t know how fully cognizant readers are about how the events in the 26th Judicial District affect them, but trust me, it does. The manner in which potential jurors are eliminated from consideration is an affront to the very concept of justice in which this country is supposed to take such pride.

It does not matter what the charges are against an individual, our constitution guarantees a fair and unbiased trial of the facts but the suppression of potential jurors defies that very constutional guarantee.

And it is quite likely occurring in other judicial districts across the state and across the country, so yes, it certainly does affect you.

Moreover, the question of whether Ramos, the decision striking down split jury verdicts, should be retroactive, is simply absurd. How could it be fair for a person convicted by a split verdict (a 10-2 guilty verdict) on Monday to have his conviction thrown out but a person convicted by an identical vote a week before the Ramos decision should not get the same consideration? If split verdicts for felonies is unconstitutional this week, it should be equally wrong last week. That is the question that now sits before the Louisiana Supreme Court. (Louisiana, by the way, is one of only two states that still honored the split verdict, Oregon being the other one.)

That’s what LouisianaVoice does: it finds injustice, whether it be in the courts or the bureauracy, and we report it. That takes money for travel, documents, and legal costs to help convince recalcitrant bureaucrats to cooperate with public records requests.

To contributed by credit card, click on the yellow DONATE button to the right of this post. If you prefer, you may send a check to: Capital News Service, P.O. Box 922, Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727. Those contributing $100 or more will get a signed copy of my novel It’s All TheIRS, the story of a foolhardy man who decides to fight the IRS – with surprising results.

As always, thanks for hanging with us for the past 11 years.

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Even as the media bemoans the harsh reality that efforts to reinstitute Jim Crow in places like Texas, Florida, Georgia, and elsewhere are succeeding, the harsher reality is the unofficial exclusion of blacks never left the nation’s court systems as it pertains to jury selection.

In fact, the courts have taken the concept up a notch or two by quietly excluding anyone, black, brown, yellow or poor white, who just didn’t fit into the establishment’s perception of how justice should be administered.

The revelation by LouisianaVoice this week of the manner in which the 26th Judicial District, comprised of the parishes of Bossier and Webster, has for years manipulated the jury selection process in favor of the prosecution may encompass more than just a single judicial district in Louisiana.

A 107-page REPORT by the Equal Justice Initiative titled Race and the Jury: Illegal Discrimination in Jury Selection addresses the issue only in terms of race, but LouisianaVoice has found what appears to be a trend of eliminating undesirable potential jury members before they were ever even aware their names had been drawn.

Briefly, that report says people of color are excluded from juries “at every step of the jury selection process:

  • When the court system creates lists of potential jurors;
  • When potential jurors are notified to come to court;
  • When judges decide which potential jurors are qualified to serve, and finally,
  • When prosecutors use peremptory strikes to remove potential jurors.

The practice does not appear to be limited to racial issues as the elderly were “waived” from jury duty without ever asking to be excused by someone simply altering or forging their jury questionnaires.

Attorneys normally have a predetermined number of peremptory challenges, whereby a potential juror may be STRUCK, or dismissed, without cause. There is no limit to challenges for cause, however.

But it is with the peremptory challenges that prosecutors have the advantage. By weeding through the venire in advance, potential jurors can be eliminated before the defense even knows who is on the list and that is what appears to have been going on in the 26th JDC, and most likely elsewhere, for many years now and likely involves the cooperation of officials from the judiciary, prosecutors and offices of the clerks of court.

And the way it’s done doesn’t appear to be according to Hoyle, according to a report by a Texas handwriting expert.

Peggy Walla of LPR Investigations of Columbus, Texas, has 41 years’ experience in handwriting identification skills, including 12 years in forensic document examination with LPR. She has testified in numerous cases involving documents and signatures, revealing alterations or deletions.

She was retained by Gary Holder, father of Chris Holder who was convicted of second-degree murder in 2014 by a split-jury verdict. (See previous LouisianaVoice stories HERE and HERE.)

Walla examined hundreds of documents, including questionnaires sent to each potential juror over a seven-year period and determined that the answers given to at least 39 of those were written by “possibly 3-4 authors.”

She said she examined the documents for evidence of forgery, alterations, additions, or deletions and attempted to identify or eliminate persons as sources of handwriting. She factored in dozens of writing characteristics, including alignment, positioning, capitalization, cross strokes, dots, directions of strokes, patterns of pressure emphasis, size, skill, slant, slope, spacing, initial strokes, connecting and terminal strokes, tremor, hesitation of writing instrument, patching, retouching, letter groupings, unnatural tremor, distorted or natural writing and use of white-out, to name only a few of the variables.

“Writers who do not wish to be identified by their handwriting resort to disguised writing,” she wrote, adding “Originality in disguise is rare.”

“Change of slant is the most frequently used method of creating disguised writing. People who disguise their handwriting do not realize that their writing habits are so ingrained that they cannot alter them sufficiently to avoid detection.”

Accordingly, she had exhibits of page after page of questionnaires, waivers, and other documents which appeared to have been written by no more than two or three persons instead of the hundreds of persons supposedly sent notifications to. That would indicate that someone in the court system had gone through the lists of potential jurors and eliminated those who were not favorable to the prosecution – all without the knowledge or consent of those potential jurors.

As a result, the required 250 venire of petit jurors consistently fell far short of that number, capping out at 141 in one case.

Walla’s examination of documents revealed no fewer than 227 which were altered and/or forged, she said.

Her full report is included in an appeal filed with the Second Circuit Court of Appeal which is currently pending. And while it’s still uncertain as to who ordered that the documents be altered or forged, it would appear that more than one person was involved.

Just how many judicial districts in Louisiana are involved in similar activity cannot be known without extensive district by district audits.

TOMORROW: Holder’s appeal is filed by a heavy hitter in the legal community.

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