NEW ORLEANS, LA – A recently overturned 2002 conviction, due to an updated Louisiana law prohibiting non-unanimous jury verdicts to suffice for a conviction, has enabled the release of a man involved in a robbery where a co-defendant murdered a police officer.
Mother angry that suspect involved in crime that ended in officer's death has been released from prison https://t.co/Yi1EQhTZqt
— WWL-TV (@WWLTV) April 17, 2021
After spending nearly 19 years in prison, Michael Davis was said to have been released from the Angola State Penitentiary after having been previously sentenced to life in prison plus 198 years for an armed robbery that occurred in 2002 at Club Tango where responding Officer Christopher Russell was shot and killed.
According to reports, the 2002 armed robbery was perpetrated by four individuals who were said to have held 16 people at gunpoint, forcing them to strip and surrender their valuables.
Officer Russell and his partner were among those who responded to the 2002 armed robbery, and officer Russell was reportedly shot in the face by a man named Dwight Patterson.
The man who killed officer Russell is still in prison, as he was convicted of first-degree murder and is serving a life sentence.
Two other men involved in the case reportedly pled guilty to armed robbery and were both respectively sentence to 15 to 25 years behind bars.
Davis was handed down a longer sentence for an armed robbery back in 2002 because of his prior convictions.
However, when Davis was convicted for the 2002 armed robbery, that conviction was handed down by a non-unanimous verdict of 11-to-1, also known as a split jury.
Back in 2018, the state of Louisiana employed referendum that abolished the practice that allowed people to be convicted of a crime in a non-unanimous verdict. In fact, even the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that split jury convictions are unconstitutional.
When Dorothy Tardy, Officer Russell’s mother, was informed about Davis’ impending release, she described her reaction to the news as follows:
“Blindsided. Hit hard. Shocked.”
After the prior conviction was tossed out, Davis was said to have gone before Orleans Criminal Court Judge Nandi Campbell and entered a new plea for armed robbery regarding the 2002 case where he was given an 18-year sentence.
With the amount of time Davis has already served in prison, his 18-year sentence he accepted on April 1st was already served – thus, leading to his release.
Interestingly, even though Davis’ previous conviction is considered unconstitutional, his tossed conviction also wasn’t mandatory as of this time because the Supreme Court hasn’t come to a decision on whether their ruling should be implemented retroactively.
The release of Davis came by way of the newly elected Orleans Parish District Attorney, Jason Williams.
Back in February, DA Williams had announced that he was moving forward with reviewing 22 cases that involved split jury convictions – which included Davis’ case.
This effort being embarked upon by DA Williams has been dubbed by him as the “Jim Crow Jury Project” due to the fact that the allowance of non-unanimous verdicts resulting in conviction in the state of Louisiana began during the Jim Crow era.
When the newly elected District Attorney revealed this endeavor, he stated that:
“For too long, New Orleans has simply been ground zero for unfairness.”
Criminal justice reform watchdog group Metropolitan Crime Commission’s President Rafael Goyeneche has accused DA Williams as functioning as a “de facto commutation board,” with allowing this release and the overall effort to overturn convictions that were reached in a non-unanimous fashion.
“So essentially the DA’s office has become a de facto commutation board. They had it within their power to do something about that sentence and they did nothing.”
Goyeneche says that the mother of Officer Russell wasn’t informed of Davis’ conviction being tossed and him being allowed to enter a new plea deal until after the April 1st hearing when this new plea deal was accepted:
“She was ignored. She wasn’t even on their radar screen to contact them. It’s inexcusable.”
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Shortly after news media outlets interviewed the mother of Officer Russell, DA Williams had reportedly reached out to Dorothy Tardy to discuss the matter. She reportedly declined to speak with the DA’s office.
Despite that, a statement was released by DA Williams regarding this case:
“We certainly understand the pain of this mother. And, we all are bearing the burden, pain and consequences of a criminal legal system that has failed this community.”
The statement continued from there, highlighting the fact that the person who did kill Officer Russell is still in prison and will remain in prison:
“Let me be clear – Dwight Patterson, who murdered NOPD Officer Christopher Russell on August 4, 2002 – is and will continue to serve life for that first-degree murder.
And, anyone who murders a police officer, or anyone in this city, will absolutely be held accountable for their actions.”
The District Attorney rationalized his decision with respect to Davis’ case, explaining the circumstances that afford credence towards Davis’ tossed conviction and newly entered plea deal:
“Davis went to trial solely for the charge of armed robbery and was convicted by a non-unanimous jury.
He was sentenced to natural life – the exact same amount of time Patterson received for the murder of Officer Russell, yet vastly more than the sentences of those who committed the same crime he was tried for.
“Like hundreds of other citizens convicted by the unfair non-unanimous juries, Davis applied for post-conviction relief. As part of our Undoing Jim Crow Juries Civil Rights Initiative, our office is required to review the case and determine the most appropriate way to re-visit the case.
We vacated the charge against Davis, and he plead guilty to the exact same charge that he was given.
“The non-unanimous verdict in this case was an injustice not only to the defendant and jurors, but also to the victims and people of New Orleans.”
Despite the District Attorney attempting to justify the decision reached with respect to Davis’s release, Tardy finds the decision to be unacceptable:
“It’s just unbelievable. Justify that to me, the officer’s mother. Tell me how I am supposed to accept that my son was ripped from his family and now you’re saying, well, it’s OK?”
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