Criticism Rises for New Orleans DA
NOAH ADAMS, host:
It's DAY TO DAY. I'm Noah Adams.
DEBORAH AMOS, host:
And I'm Deborah Amos.
In New Orleans yesterday, Brandon Tillman(ph) was convicted of murder. The name is not important but it's a big deal because the city has the highest per capita homicide rate in the country, and almost all killings go unpunished. In 2006, there were over 162 murders, just three convictions. So when District Attorney Eddie Jordan appeared before the city council, it wasn't smooth sailing.
NPR's Russell Lewis reports from New Orleans.
RUSSEL LEWIS: As he spoke to the New Orleans City Council, several residents held up signs, including one that said Jordan Must Resign. During the two hour meeting Eddie Jordan stuck up for his office and pointed the changes he made last week, like disbanding the homicide unit and replacing it with seasoned investigators who will handle all violent crime cases. The move comes after Jordan dropped two high-profile murder cases that galvanized this community. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin says he welcomes the D.A.'s changes.
Mayor RAY NAGIN (Democrats, New Orleans): You know most people want to see a consistent pattern of behaviors from that office, and we'll see. But it's a good first step.
LEWIS: Last week, the D.A. dropped a quintuple murder case after his office couldn't find the lone witness. The next day, New Orleans Police Department tracked her down. Mayor Nagin says the biggest issue on his to-do list is to make sure no suspected murderer is released from jail until the police, D.A. and judges talk about it first.
Mayor Nagin can't fire Eddie Jordan because the district attorney is independently elected. But the mayor says if such things happen one more time, as he put it, my seatbelt's coming off.
Russell Lewis, NPR News, New Orleans.
ADAMS: And Eddie Jordan, the District Attorney in New Orleans, joins us now from member station WWNO. Welcome to our program, Mr. Jordan.
Mr. EDDIE JORDAN (District Attorney, New Orleans): Thank you. I'm very happy to be on your program. I just want to point out one thing at the very beginning. There was an indication of the number of murders in 2006. You know, it's those kinds of statistics that really put me in the posture of being the scapegoat for all the problems of the criminal justice system; 162 murders and then the information that there were three convictions.
Well, first of all, we didn't have court for six months of 2006. All of those murders weren't solved. The vast majority of them weren't solved. And most murder cases don't go to trial in the same year. So obviously you're not going to end up with 80 trials in the year that those murders were committed.
ADAMS: But still, if you stack those numbers up, compare them to, let's say Detroit or Baltimore or Washington, D.C., they would be quite a bit higher, just along the same lines.
Mr. JORDAN: Well, I don't know what they would be, but obviously if you have a murder committed, let's say in January of 2006, more than likely that murder case is not going to go to trial at the end of 2006, especially if you don't have court for substantial portion of the year.
ADAMS: As we just heard in Russell Lewis's story, Ray Nagin now wants you and the police and the judges to get together before a murder suspect is let out of jail. He's almost issuing a warning to your office. Did you take umbrage at that?
Mr. JORDAN: Well, you know, I don't think the - we've sat down and talked with the mayor many times about the issues involved, and I don't think he understands them at all. Of course I do believe that there should be ongoing communication between the police department and the D.A.'s Office about any case that is close to being not being prosecutable. And we have procedures and policies in place to make sure that that kind of communication takes place all the time.
ADAMS: The mayor is disagreeing with this, though. He's saying you've got to talk to me before you let somebody out of jail, and this was brought up at the city council meeting in the murder of five youngsters in an SUV last year. Driver shot, four passengers executed. Last week the suspect was let go because of no witness. The next day the police superintendent has a news conference and has the witness there in the room. Did you know that was going to happen?
Mr. JORDAN: I had no idea that the police had found this witness until that morning.
ADAMS: The issue here, though, isn't it really that the communication between your office and the police department is completely broken down in this quintuple murder and you didn't know what the police superintendent was going to do the next day and surely it was embarrassing for you?
Mr. JORDAN: I think there's always room for communication - improved communication between our offices. We found that there are systemic barriers to communication between the police department and the D.A.'s office. And we're determined to remove those barriers.
ADAMS: There have been many calls for your resignation. There's talk in the state legislature of impeachment. There is support in the community, the group known as Safe Streets/Strong Communities. Their leader said the one man fighting corruption in the police department is now being criticized. Do you feel you're being unfairly attacked and asked to leave office?
Mr. JORDAN: There's no question about it. I've been unfairly attacked and I've been singled out. I mentioned I went into great detail about the progress that we've made under my administration and we've done so under extremely difficult circumstances with little or no resources at times. And it's interesting to note that they were not able to refute that information, and they struggled with the facts because that's not what their perception was and yet the facts speaks for themselves. They speak strongly that this is a competent administration and that we are a fair administration.
We've taken on tough cases and sometimes that's created opposition from certain groups in the community. But we intend to stand strong and go forward and prosecute those cases that we believe are prosecutable. And we want to hold everyone to the letter of the law and make sure that our city is as safe as possible.
ADAMS: If you look at the numbers from last year, the murder numbers in New Orleans, the rate doubled in the second half of the year. So if you project this year, 2007, you could be over 300 murders. What is your vision for New Orleans? And do you think anything that your office can do is going to help that situation?
Mr. JORDAN: Actually, I think that the numbers should be less than 300. It seems that it would be in the 200 range. I think that's totally unacceptable. I don't think we should have any murders in our city. One murder is too many. But we have had a number of unwholesome people coming back to the city, who have been involved in drug dealing and killing in connection with drugs. I think most of the murders are related to drugs. That is another reason why I do not think that we can ignore the drug enforcement issue in our city.
I think it's wrong for people to say let all of the drug offenders out on the streets. And yet that is one of the solutions that's being offered, that if we let all of the drug offenders out, then we can somehow - we can focus on violent crime. Well, that - I think they're interconnected. They're interrelated. And I think that we have to do both, and we're convicting people for drug violations and we're also convicting people for violent crime offenses. And that violent offender unit has an excellent track record, and we think that we're going to continue to have success in that area.
ADAMS: The election is in 2008 - the reelection. Do you intend to run again?
Mr. JORDAN: Yes, I do intend to run and I had tremendous support at that city council hearing. There was outrage and the voices of many of my supporters. They feel that I am being unfairly singled out. They feel that the criminal justice system has a number of problems and that those problems go back many years, and they feel that given the constraints that I have, the under-funded institution that I inherited and that I've been able to obtain more funding for, that I am doing a good job under the circumstances.
ADAMS: New Orleans District Attorney Eddie Jordan.
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