Earlier today, Criminal District Court Judge Lynda Van Davis ordered a new trial for Michael Anderson, accused of a 2006 quintuple homicide in Central City that resulted in the deployment of the National Guard.
Anderson had been sentenced to death last year but Van Davis ruled that District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office erred in failing to disclose to the defense two key pieces of information: a deal with a prison informant; and a videotaped interview with Torrie Williams, the state’s sole eyewitnesses, in which she contradicts her trial testimony.
Cannizzaro just held a press conference, vowing a reinstatement of the conviction through an appeal of today’s decision, calling Anderson a murderer.
In 2007, the case became highly politicized when then-DA Eddie Jordan announced he was dropping the charges against Anderson because Williams was unreliable and was missing. Jordan was pilloried for so quickly dropping the charges, especially after the NOPD embarrassed him by producing the apparently missing witness within hours.
You may be tempted to see Van Davis’ ruling as vindicating Jordan’s judgment that the evidence against Anderson was lacking.
Remember that Jordan quickly reconstituted the charges after Williams surfaced, and Anderson was indicted by a grand jury within a month.
The videotape at the heart of Anderson’s quest for a new trial – in which Torrie Williams describes for assistant prosecutors a different set of circumstances than she would later testify under oath at trial – was created within days of her rediscovery.
So if Jordan was a moral scion one day, he ignored justice to save his political hide the next.
That isn’t to put all the blame on Jordan.
Cannizzaro’s office saw this through trial and it was Cannizzaro’s office that failed to disclose the tape and the deal with the witness to Anderson’s lawyers. Today, it was Cannizzaro himself who was vowing Anderson’s guilt.
Cannizzaro has been widely lauded for stabilizing the district attorney’s office, which was totally in the pits under Jordan.
Yet Anderson’s successful (so far) push for a new trial warns against the perils of pushing the wall so hard that you fall down with it.
And it conjures memories of the scores of wrongful convictions under Harry Connick that resulted in millions of dollars in lawsuit judgments and a divided community.