Back in December, The Lens published a story, in partnership with The Atavist, chronicling the case of Erin Hunter, who was convicted of murdering a man named Greggie Jones back in 1988. Hunter was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. As the story was being reported, Hunter died in Louisiana State Penitentiary at the age of 56. He always maintained his innocence.

Hunter’s trial lasted a single morning. It took place in Section G of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, where Judge Frank Shea was presiding. When Hunter tried to make the case for his innocence on the stand, Shea told him to shut up and had him removed. Hunter’s testimony on his own behalf lasted around 10 minutes. 

In Section G, trials like Hunter’s were standard. Shea was known for berating lawyers and defendants, and holding trials as quickly as possible—which was seen at the time as a positive model for swift justice. In 1976, the Louisiana State Legislature passed a resolution commending Shea for conducting speedy criminal trials, and bringing about “an interest in developing a more efficient method of disposing of criminal cases.” The resolution called him an excellent model for other judges. 

The Section G Podcast is taking a look back at the career of Judge Frank Shea, talking to lawyers, defendants, and others who knew him. What did it say about the criminal justice system that the speed of a trial was the measure by which judges were evaluated? That Shea himself seemed to value speed above all else? That holding trials at a record pace was not questioned, but celebrated, during a time when the country as a whole, and Louisiana in particular, were locking people up at a rate never seen before?

Watch The Lens for new episodes of The Section G Podcast, beginning next week. This series is supported by the Ella West Freeman Foundation and listeners like you. Show your support for The Lens today at thelensnola.org/donate.

Nicholas Chrastil

Nicholas Chrastil covers criminal justice for The Lens. As a freelancer, his work has appeared in Slate, Undark, Mother Jones, and the Atavist, among other outlets. Chrastil has a master's degree in mass...