Derrick Stafford citing 2021 SCOTUS ruling in request for new trial
MARKSVILLE, La. (KALB) - On Friday, March 24, Judge William Bennett gave a green light in the first step of a process to consider whether or not former Ward 2 City Marshal Derrick Stafford will be granted a new trial.
Stafford is currently serving concurrent sentences of 40 years on the manslaughter conviction and 15 years on the attempted manslaughter conviction for the shooting death of Jeremy Mardis, 6, and the shooting of his father, Chris Few in November of 2015.
The key to this case, and why he’s asking for a new trial, is that Stafford was convicted by a split jury in a 10-2 verdict in March of 2017.
However, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) changed the law impacting non-unanimous jury verdicts in 2021, putting his case in the spotlight. That ruling came down in U.S. v. Ramos. It is now, however, retroactive and not automatic. Just because a conviction came from a split jury does not mean a defendant automatically receives a new trial.
A defendant must file an appeal to SCOTUS within the timeline of the appeals process before the sentence and conviction are final.
In Stafford’s case, his appellate attorneys never filed an appeal to SCOTUS. At this point, he no longer qualifies for an appeal, only post-conviction relief.
Despite that, his post-conviction attorney, Barry Ranshi, cited that Supreme Court decision as one of the reasons behind asking for a new trial.
Judge Bennett heard arguments from both Ranshi and Assistant Attorney General Taylor Gray on the case Friday.
Stafford’s defense argued that his appellate attorneys were in ineffective for failing to file to the nation’s high court, saying it was “beyond the realm of conscience” to not do so when the Ramos case was pending before the Supreme Court.
On those grounds, they say Stafford should not pay the price.
On the other hand, the AG’s office argued that does not matter. His appeals process has closed, and using Ramos as an argument is “moot.”
Judge Bennett brought into question what he calls “fundamental fairness,” pointing both the defense and AG’s office in the direction of a similar Avoyelles Parish case, Louisiana v. Charles Mayeaux, Jr.
In that case, Mayeaux’s split verdict was just months apart from Stafford’s, an appeal was filed, and due to the Supreme Court decision, he has been granted a new trial.
Judge Bennett called the proximity and similarity in the cases “ironic.”
He also pointed to the plea taken by Stafford’s co-defendant, Norris Greenhouse, Jr., who was sentenced to seven years and six months after pleading guilty in October 2017 to malfeasance in office and negligent homicide. He received two years and six months on the malfeasance conviction and five years for negligent homicide for his role in the November 2015 shooting.
Greenhouse, Jr. was released in July 19 after completing a portion of his sentence.
Judge Bennett said that was the first instance he began to question “fundamental fairness.”
He asked what the role of the court ultimately is: to issue justice or punishment?
Judge Bennet did not make a ruling on Friday. He’s giving counsel until July 17 to submit their arguments. Then 30 days to respond. Judge Bennett will then start the process of considering a ruling beginning Aug. 18.
Additionally, Stafford’s defense attorney had submitted a writ of ineffective trial counsel.
Jonathan Goins and Christopher LaCour defended Stafford during his trial. They were meant to testify before the court Friday on the claim. However, both the defense and prosecution agreed that was not necessary.
Judge Bennett denied the writ, saying they were not ineffective in his opinion. He said they defended Stafford with “passion, hard work and dedication.”
He emphasized that the resulting conviction was not a result of the defense’s strategy. It was the jury’s decision.
“I think what the judge said speaks for itself about what kind of job we did as defense attorneys,” said LaCour. “We fought tooth and nail, from requesting funds from court to calling on personal favors where we had another attorney come in on his own dime to help with questioning Mr. Stafford for trial. Stuff like that. You know, and I get it. Maybe there was some things we could have done that we didn’t do, but I believe we put on the best defense for those circumstances.”
LaCour emphasized his belief that Stafford should not be in jail. Goins agreed.
“It was the effectiveness of Mr. LaCour and my trial strategy that Mr. Stafford even has this opportunity to ask the court for a new trial,” said Goins. “It’s the ineffectiveness of his appellate attorney who did not file a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Goins and LaCour both agreed with Judge Bennett calling into question fairness in the case of Greenhouse, Jr., questioning why there was a distinction over the punishment of two co-defendants who acted together in the same case.
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