New Orleans Police On Trial For Katrina Killings Opening statements began on Monday in New Orleans, where five current and former police officers are on trial for their alleged roles in shooting innocent civilians in the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina. The officers also are accused of trying to cover up the incident.
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New Orleans Police On Trial For Katrina Killings

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New Orleans Police On Trial For Katrina Killings

Law

New Orleans Police On Trial For Katrina Killings

New Orleans Police On Trial For Katrina Killings

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Opening statements began on Monday in New Orleans, where five current and former police officers are on trial for their alleged roles in shooting innocent civilians in the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina. The officers also are accused of trying to cover up the incident.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

NPR's John Burnett was there for opening statements and has this report.

JOHN BURNETT: The most dramatic moment came Monday afternoon, when the first witness for the prosecution stood to be sworn in. Afterwards, the city's independent police monitor, Susan Hutson, reflecting on the moment.

MONTAGNE: Susan Bartholomew gets up there, and they're asking her to raise her right hand. Well, it's not there anymore. In fact, her whole arm is gone. Her whole right arm is missing. And so that was just really - just something that got me in the gut.

BURNETT: Bartholomew's right arm was shot off by a police officer during the incident. Defense attorney Lindsay Larson said: It was a tragedy for everyone involved, a horrible, regrettable mistake, but it's not a federal crime.

MONTAGNE: The prosecutor, Bernstein, says police caught up to a mentally and physically disabled, 40-year-old man named Ronald Madison, who was trotting down the bridge, and who they thought had been shooting at them. Bernstein gripped an imaginary shotgun to her shoulder, and faced the jury. Boom, she said. Without warning or provocation, an officer shot him in the back. The 16 jurors flinched. Ronald Madison died at the scene.

BURNETT: Defense lawyers told the jury that the stressed-out officers had every reason to believe civilians on the bridge that Sunday morning were bad guys. The city had become lawless. At night, the darkened neighborhoods echoed with gunfire. Consider the defendants had been living for six days without adequate food, shelter, clothing, rest, support or leadership.

D: City police monitor Susan Hutson, who spoke outside the Hale Boggs Federal Building after the trial adjourned for the day, says she thought the defense did a good job of explaining the post-Katrina turmoil.

MONTAGNE: They still have a duty to look at what they're firing at. They still have a duty to make sure that their shots are accurate. But it does give you a sense of what was going on. They thought officers were down and injured. So it did show - they did a good job of painting a picture of the chaos.

BURNETT: John Burnett, NPR News, New Orleans.

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