A nonprofit law clinic that works to free the wrongly convicted is looking into the case of a Lafayette man serving life at Angola. By Walter Pierce
[Update: Due to Hurricane Isaac, IPNO requested and was granted a continuation in the case. No hearing date has been set.]
Convicted killer Jackie Lambert is 54 years old. For nearly half his life, since 1986, he has called the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola home. He was convicted by a Lafayette jury in the brutal May 1984 murder of 79-year-old Georgiana Young. The elderly Young was found with 51 stabs wounds and a broken neck in her house on the 600 block of South Washington Street near downtown. The house — long ago razed, the lot now given over to tall grass and weeds — was ransacked. Jewelry and other belongings were missing.
Lambert and another suspect, Wilton Lindon, were arrested a few weeks after the crime. Both were in possession of items stolen from Young’s house. Lindon, according to police records, confessed to participating in the burglary and stabbing, but insisted Lambert was the mastermind.
Each was convicted in separate trials — Lindon of first-degree murder; Lambert of second-degree. Lindon, who was convicted two months before Lambert, testified against his co-defendant at Lambert’s trial. Police investigators also testified that Lambert claimed he merely stood behind the house while Lindon entered, murdered Young and exited with her possessions, a claim Lambert disputed when he took the stand in his own defense. Lambert testified that he wasn’t even there.
Because Louisiana law prescribes life without parole for a second-degree murder conviction, Lambert will grow old and die at Angola, likely insisting until his last breath, as he has since his arrest, that he is innocent.
There was very little coverage of Georgiana Young’s murder in the local daily aside from a crime scene photo the day after her body was discovered and a short story on Jackie Lambert’s conviction two years later.
But a ray of hope has pierced the endless monotony of prison life for Jackie Lambert, although he may not even know it. On Aug. 27 District Judge Jules Edwards will decide whether the Innocence Project of New Orleans, a nonprofit law office that since its inception a decade ago has helped exonerate more than 20 convicts serving life sentences in prisons in Louisiana and Mississippi, should have access to records related to Lambert’s arrest and conviction.
In a state with the highest incarceration rate in the nation with the highest incarceration rate in the industrialized world, IPNO will never want for work. Lambert could become its next project. But the group is mum on its intentions with the case, and it’s unclear whether this inquiry into Lambert’s case is to help IPNO decide whether to take his case or if the group is going full bore to spring Lambert from prison.
Kristen Winstrom, an IPNO staff attorney who filed the writ in Lafayette, would only say via email after a brief telephone conversation, “[public records] requests are a routine part of our investigation of cases.”
Yet it’s practically a certainty the nonprofit group has reason to believe Lambert’s case may have merit; the phalanx of staff attorneys, investigators, paralegals and volunteers comprising IPNO invests hundreds of hours in individual cases. This isn’t a random fishing expedition. IPNO has seen virtually everything related to the case, specifically detective notes and logs. But the Lafayette Police Department redacted — blotted out with a magic marker, if you will — parts of some of the notes. And that’s what the Aug. 27 hearing is all about: IPNO filed what’s called a writ of mandamus against the PD, a fancy name for a lawsuit to compel the police department to turn over the records without the redactions.
IPNO’s suit against the police department has its genesis in a request in the spring of last year to the PD for the records. It’s unclear why the group made the request; Winstrom is unwilling to elaborate. After some back and forth via email and telephone with police officers and city-parish attorney Mike Hebert, an IPNO investigator traveled to Lafayette in May 2011 to look over the case, but IPNO was dissatisfied with what it saw based on the redactions. In court documents, Hebert cites state law as providing exemptions to the Louisiana Public Records Act, allowing for sensitive information to be redacted.
“There were two reasons,” Hebert says. “One was the exemption for confidential informants; the other was the exemption for investigative techniques, both of which were explained to me by the police department as being directly applicable to the redactions.”
The former exemption is understandable, assuming confidential informants are still alive and revealing their identity via the court record might jeopardize their safety. But Hebert and the police department argue the latter exemption is valid, too, even 28 years later.
“You can envision any number of situations in which a particular investigative technique might be revealed by showing the documents that show the results of that investigative technique, and that might impair future investigations,” Hebert explains. In other words, revealing how the police conduct investigations could aid suspects in future investigations. Know thy enemy. “It’s not necessarily the age of the case that would drive us to whether those exemptions would be invoked or not,” Hebert adds.
Because Lambert’s case is now back in court, tangentially anyway, officials at Angola denied our request to speak to him. His appeal of the 1986 conviction was denied by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal in 1987, and the Louisiana Supreme Court declined to hear his case. At this point IPNO appears to be Jackie Lambert’s only chance of ever seeing Angola from the outside.
MAY 17 Here's a column from James Gill, this time in the Advocate. Gill, who has jumped ship from the Picayune, writes about the absurdity of dueling polls in this post. The numbers are so wildly different, it is obvious that both sides are "cooking the books," he writes. In particular, he looks at Sen. Mary Landrieu, and how her recent actions in DC have been received by those polled. Gill's acerbic, amusing prose is a welcome addition to a paper so conservative as to be occasionally lacking in personality.
MAY 17 Blogger Tom Aswell continues delivering bombshells about the state education department and Gov. Jindal's education "reform" efforts. In this post, he reports that students in the Shreveport area have been signed up for a charter school without their knowledge or consent. Most interesting to Aswell is how this Texas-based charter (with ties to GOP types) got the personal student information it has, if the students didn't give it.
MAY 17 This post by JR Ball in the Baton Rouge Business Report is an interesting tongue-in-cheek look at recent Baton Rouge economic development efforts. Among the items he examines is the idea that gaining a Costco makes BR a "world-class city." (Really? All you need is a different brand of Sam's? MK!) This effort, and other recent ones, are all built on the taxpayer's back, with tax zones, tax incentives and tax rebates, Ball writes.
MAY 17 Blogger CB Forgotston is critical of the legislature's reliance on a revenue-estimating committee's decision to include projected tax amnesty income in this year's forecast. That's a problem, CB posts, because the deadline for these people to pay their taxes is June 30, 2014. So when do you think these people who haven't paid taxes in years are going to pay their taxes? Surely not before June 30, and that means the money won't be there for this year's budget, he argues.
MAY 17 Here's an interesting blog out of California by a Hollywood writer, attorney and academic named Brian Alan Lane. He blogs about higher ed, and was a whistle-blower in a scandal over false credentials. In this post, he takes aim at LSU's new top dog, King Alexander. It's convoluted and a little confusing, but it sure makes Alexander a lot more interesting than he was yesterday.
MAY 17 Blogger Robert Mann writes about the LSU Board's refusal to allow Dr. Fred Cerise to testify before the legislature about Gov. Jindal's plan to close down all the state's charity hospitals and dump the poor on the private system. It's hard to imagine anyone more qualified than Cerise to testify about that, so why would anyone try to prevent him doing so? Mann thinks it is because the powers that be aren't interested in hearing any truth about the plan.
MAY 17 This post on the Louisiana Sinkhole Bugle, a blog that notes developments in the Bayou Corne and Jefferson Island salt domes, talks about a proposed expansion of the salt dome storage under Lake Peigneur in Iberia Parish. Residents are working against it for several reasons, including two biggies: the sinkhole disaster in Bayou Corne and the continuing, unexplained bubbling on the surface of the Lake.
MAY 17 NOLA police arrested more people Thursday accused of either being involved in the Mother's Day shooting or hiding the suspect afterward, this Gambit story reports. The NOLA police chief said he suspects the whole thing was gang-related and throws out a challenge to the gangs: he's got informants now, he says, and he knows a lot more than the gangs want him to know. The people who live in the neighborhoods terrorized by gangs are ready to talk, he says.
Is it a crime for citizens to photograph, video, or take notes of a police officer in the line of duty, or a right protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? Locally, such activity, as witnessed recently, will at the very least result in a night spent behind bars.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
Episcopal School of Acadiana’s Dr. Joshua Caffery, chair of the school’s English Department, is headed to Washington, D.C., and the Library of Congress as the latest winner of the Alan Lomax Fellowship in Folklife Studies.