Antoinette Frank was a 23-year-old rookie
New Orleans police officer when she and Rogers LaCaze terrorized the
family-owned Kim Anh restaurant, shooting dead Officer Ronald
Williams, and siblings Ha and Cuong Vu during a 1995 robbery.
(born 30th April 1971) is a former New Orleans police officer who was
convicted of the murders of three people and is one ot two women on
Louisiana's death row located in St. Gabriel at the Louisiana
Correctional Institute for Women.
Frank had an
unstable childhood, but there was one thing that was clear to her
since she was a small girl: she wanted to become a policewoman.
As a teenager and,
later on, young adult, Frank suffered from being a member of a broken
family: her brother was a law fugitive, her father would appear in her
life only occasionally, and Frank became distressed about these
issues, needing psychiatric help.
According to author
Chuck Hustmyre, a former policeman himself, when Frank applied to
become a cop in Louisiana, she lied about her psychological and
psychiatric condition in order to be hired as a policewoman.
Frank served in the
New Orleans Police for less than one year and was hired despite being
caught lying on several sections of her application. During a
shooting, she met her future boyfriend, an alleged drug dealer named
Rogers LaCaze, who had been badly injured during the shooting and who
required help from Frank that night, as well as hospitalization.
Frank and LaCaze
fell in love quickly. The couple shared a passionate relationship.
Perhaps feeling that LaCaze brought her the solace she needed in life,
Frank became so infatuated with the young man (who was 18 at the
time), that she even let him drive her police car around.
On March 4, 1995,
Frank and Lacaze visited Kim Anh, a Vietnamese restaurant in east New
Orleans, Louisiana. As the restaurant was closing early that morning,
Chau Vu, sister of two of the victims, went into the kitchen to count
She reentered the
dining room of the restaurant to pay Officer Ronald Williams, when she
noticed Frank approaching the restaurant yet again. Sensing something
was wrong, Chau Vu ran back to the kitchen and hid the money in the
microwave before returning to the front of the restaurant.
Using a stolen key,
Frank and Lacaze entered the restaurant and began to walk quickly to
the back of the building, pushing Chau, one of Chau's brothers, Quoc,
and a restaurant employee along with her. Shots rang out, and Frank
ran back to the front of the restaurant.
Chau, Quoc, and the
employee hid in a cooler in the kitchen, concerned because they did
not know the whereabouts of Chau's and Quoc's sister and brother, Ha
From inside the
cooler, Chau and Quoc could partially see the front of the restaurant.
Chau initially could see Frank, who appeared to be looking for
something. Frank moved out of Chau's line of vision, and then the
three hiding heard additional gunshots.
Quoc next observed
Frank searching in the area where the Vus usually kept their money. He
then saw her walk over to the area where he later found the bodies of
his brother and sister, and he heard more gunshots. After Frank and
Rogers Lacaze left the premises, Quoc emerged from the cooler and
called 911 to report the murders.
Antoinette Frank had
obtained an off-duty job as a security guard at the restaurant along
with officer Williams, who considered her to be a friend. Frank
arrived to the scene minutes after the first officers to arrive were
there, and she proceeded to study the scenario where the murders took
place. She approached Chau, asking her what happened. Chau found
another officer and reported what she had witnessed. After Chau was
interviewed in more detail, the defendant and Rogers Lacaze were
arrested and charged with first degree murder
Frank and Rogers
Lacaze were indicted by an Orleans Parish Grand Jury on April 28,
1995. Their trials were severed, and Rogers Lacaze was tried first on
July 17-21, 1995, found guilty as charged, and sentenced to death.
Frank's trial began
on September 5, 1995, and on September 12, 1995, the jury returned a
guilty verdict on all counts and recommended a sentence of death as to
all counts. The defendant was formally sentenced to death on October
Frank's father had
stayed at her home not too long before the robbery, then he
disappeared. The fact that the police found a human skull with a
bullet hole in his head buried under Frank's house not long after her
father's disappearance, also helped her become a prime suspect of the
Antoinette Frank (born April 30, 1971) is a
former New Orleans police officer who was convicted of the robbery of
a restaurant where a fellow officer worked as a security guard, and
the murders of three people, including her partner on the police
department, who was also a security guard at the restaurant. Frank is
one of two women on Louisiana's death row at the Louisiana
Correctional Institute for Women in St. Gabriel, Louisiana.
Frank had an unstable childhood, but she had wanted
to become a police officer since she was a small girl. Frank was from
a broken family: her brother was a fugitive, her father would appear
in her life occasionally, and Frank became distressed about these
issues, needing psychiatric help. Frank has claimed that her father
abused her sexually, mentally, and physically when she was a child.
According to author Chuck Hustmyre, a former
federal agent and author of a book about Frank, Killer with a
Badge, when Frank applied to become a police officer in Louisiana,
she lied about her psychological problems.
Frank applied with the (NOPD) in 1993. Several red
flags turned up during the hiring process. She'd been caught lying on
several sections of her application, and had flunked two standard
psychiatric evaluations. Psychiatrist Philip Scurria examined her, and
advised in no uncertain terms that she not be hired, saying she was
"shallow and superficial". When it looked like her application was
stalling despite protesting Scurria's evaluation, she left a suicide
note and disappeared for over a day.
Despite this, the NOPD was chronically
short-handed, and desperate to get more people on the force. Even with
this shortage the department did not hire anyone who doesn't live in
New Orleans (and still does not to this day). Accordingly, she was
hired on February 7, 1993. She graduated from the Police Academy on
February 28, 1993.
On November 25, 1994, Frank handled a shooting
incident in which Rogers Lacaze, a known drug dealer, was one of the
suspects. The DOC Department of Public Safety and Corrections
investigator believes this was the first contact between the two,
although in her statement, she claims that they met some eight months
before the murder. The association between them became close and
constant. Other police officers witnessed Lacaze driving her car and
even observed him moving her police unit at the scene of an accident
she was investigating. On one occasion, Lacaze accompanied her on a
complaint call and she introduced him as a “trainee.” There were other
times when Lacaze was introduced as her nephew. Frank refused to
discuss her relationship with Lacaze during the DOC investigation,
except to say that she was trying to help him.It was later revealed
that the two had a sexual relationship.She was madly in love with
Lacaze. When asked why she would continue the relationship knowing
that Lacaze had been involved in dealing drugs and in a shooting, she
claimed that she would not disassociate herself from him just because
of his past. The investigator also questioned Frank about trying to
buy 9 mm ammunition for Lacaze at Wal-Mart on the day before the Kim
Anh murders. She stated that she was a police officer and that there
was nothing wrong with her buying ammunition. According to her
statement, she claimed that she and Lacaze were not dating and had
never been intimate. Frank refused to discuss anything regarding
Officer Williams, the Vus or the murders. Every time the investigator
asked her a question, she told him to “look it up in the record,” and
asserted her innocence. However, during her interview with the DOC
investigator, Frank did claim to have had a male suitor, but refused
to go into specifics because he works for the police department.
John Stevens and Anthony Wallace testified in court
that they met Rogers Lacaze at a party on February 4, 1995. As the two
were leaving the party, a verbal altercation between Stevens and
Lacaze ensued. Wallace suggested that they leave, and the two men got
in a car and drove several blocks. At that time, a police vehicle
pulled the car over. Frank, in police uniform, exited the squad car
and told both Wallace and Stevens to get out and go to the back of the
car. At that point Wallace saw Lacaze and noticed that he was holding
a weapon. According to Stevens, Wallace then rushed Lacaze and the two
men began fighting. At that point, both Stevens and Frank also jumped
in the fray and the gun went off. Stevens began running and then
another man appeared and grabbed both Lacaze and Wallace. Frank then
told the bystander that, “Lacaze was the good guy,” and that Wallace
was the one causing the problems. Wallace was restrained until a
back-up unit arrived on the scene. He was subsequently arrested and
charged with attempted murder and armed robbery.
Irvin Bryant, a civil sheriff in 1995, testified
that on the evening of February 4, he observed a stopped police
vehicle with the lights flashing. He thought that the officer was
making a traffic stop, but as he got closer he saw the officer and two
black males fighting on the side of the road. At that time Wallace
broke away, ran and picked up a Tech 9 semi-automatic weapon out of
the grass. Bryant ordered Wallace to drop the gun, which he did
immediately. He then restrained Wallace, and Lacaze lunged towards
him. He immediately grabbed Lacaze, but Frank informed him that Lacaze
was with her and ordered him released. Furthermore, Mr. Bryant was
never questioned by police and he never gave a formal statement.
On March 4, 1995, Frank and Lacaze visited Kim Anh,
a Vietnamese restaurant in New Orleans East. After midnight, as the
employees cleaned the closed restaurant, Chau Vu, sister of two of the
victims, went into the kitchen to count money. She entered the dining
room of the restaurant to pay Officer Ronald A. Williams II for the
night, when she noticed Frank approaching the restaurant.
Frank and Lacaze had been at the restaurant twice
earlier in the night to get leftover food to eat. When Chau had let
her out on the last visit, she could not find the front door key. With
Frank returning again for a third time, Chau sensed something was very
wrong, so she ran to the kitchen to hide the money in the microwave.
Frank entered the front door using the key that she
had taken from the restaurant earlier, and walked quickly past Officer
Williams, pushing Chau, another of Chau's brothers, Quoc, and a
restaurant employee into the doorway of the restaurant's kitchen.
Williams started to follow asking them what was the problem when shots
As Frank turned back to the dining room of the
restaurant, Chau grabbed Quoc to hide somewhere. Lacaze had been
behind Officer Williams and shot him in the back of the neck, severing
his spinal cord, instantly paralyzing him. The officer was shot again
in the head and in the middle of his back, as he lay on the floor.
Chau, Quoc, and the employee hid in the rear of a
large walk-in cooler in the kitchen, turning out its light as they
entered. They did not know the whereabouts of Chau's and Quoc's other
sister and brother, Ha and Cuong, who had been sweeping the dining
room floors when Frank entered the restaurant. From inside the cooler,
Chau and Quoc could partially see the kitchen and the front of the
restaurant. Chau initially could see Frank looking for something in
the kitchen. As Frank moved out of Chau's line of vision, additional
gunshots were fired. Quoc next observed Frank searching where the Vus
usually kept their money. Quoc saw Frank walk to the part of the
kitchen where the bodies of his brother and sister were later found.
Frank and Lacaze were shouting and demanding the
money. Ha and Cuong did not know where Chau had hidden the money.
Twenty-one-year-old Ha was shot three times as she knelt pleading for
her life and seventeen-year-old Cuong was shot six times and pistol
whipped. After Frank and Lacaze left the premises, Quoc emerged from
the cooler and ran out the back door of the restaurant to a nearby
friend's home to call 911 to report the murders. Chau tried
frantically to call 911 on her cell phone, but, being inside the
cooler, she could not receive a signal.
Frank dropped off Lacaze at a nearby apartment
complex, both knowing that there were witnesses left behind. Frank
heard the 911 call on her portable police radio saying that an officer
was down at the Kim Anh restaurant. She returned to the scene, parked
in the rear, and entered through the back door of the restaurant. She
made her way through the kitchen to the dining room where Chau waited
for help at the front door. As Chau bolted through the restaurant's
front door to the safety of arriving officers, Frank immediately
identified herself as a police officer. Chau told Frank that she knew
what she had done and cried to the officers that Frank had committed
Chau and Frank were questioned in detail while
seated at different tables in the restaurant. Frank was taken to
police headquarters for additional questioning, where she later
confessed to the crimes along with LaCaze. Frank and Lacaze were
arrested and charged with first degree murder.
Trial and conviction
Frank and Lacaze were indicted by an Orleans Parish
Grand Jury on April 28, 1995. Their trials were severed, and Lacaze
was tried first on July 17–21, 1995, found guilty as charged, and
sentenced to death. Frank's trial began on September 5, 1995. The
evidence against her was so overwhelming that Frank's attorneys did
not mount a defense (despite subpoenaing 40 witnesses). On September
12, 1995, the jury returned a guilty verdict on all counts and
recommended the death penalty. She was formally sentenced to death on
October 20, 1995 and sent to Death Row at the Louisiana Correctional
Institute for Women, in St. Gabriel, Louisiana, very near Baton Rouge.
Aftermath and current developements
In 1993, a year and a half before the murders at
the Kim Anh, Frank's father had stayed at her home for a time—and then
she reported him missing. In November 1995, a month after she received
her first death sentence, a dog led police to find a human skull with
a bullet hole buried under Frank's house. News reports dating back to
2002 state that a psychiatrist testified that Frank's father had
repeatedly impregnated her via rape and had compelled her to have
In a 2005 retrospective, Chuck Hustmyre, who wrote
a true crime book about the case, said, "As for those human bones
unearthed beneath Frank’s house, so far, authorities have made no
serious effort to identify them. The 10-year-old case, they say,
remains under investigation." According to Hustmyre, shortly before
2005 and several years after her conviction, Frank began to make
statements blaming her father for "years of emotional, physical and
sexual abuse at his hands," which accounted for her murder of the
police officer and the restaurant workers.
On October 18, 2006, Frank's attorneys argued
before the Louisiana Supreme Court that her death sentence should be
overturned because she was denied state-funded experts to help prepare
for the sentencing phase of the trial. On May 22, 2007, the Louisiana
Supreme Court ruled 5–2 that the death penalty should be upheld.
On April 22, 2008, State Judge Frank Marullo signed
the death warrant for Antoinette Frank. According to the warrant,
Frank was scheduled for execution by lethal injection on July 15,
2008. In May, however, the Louisiana Supreme Court issued a 90-day
stay of execution effective June 10 pending ongoing appeals.
On September 11, 2008, the day that the state
supreme court stay was to end, a new death warrant was signed by the
same judge. According to this second warrant, Frank was scheduled for
execution by lethal injection on December 8, 2008. In a new round of
appeals, defense attorneys argued they had had too little time to
review the voluminous record before the deadline for filing appeals.
The Louisiana State Supreme Court ruled on the case again. Their
decision, made public November 25, 2008, effectively canceled the
death warrant signed by Judge Marullo in September.
In September 2009, Frank moved to have Judge
Marullo removed from her ongoing post-conviction appeals on grounds of
bias, given that he had already signed two death warrants for her.
Louisiana state Judge Laurie White heard the motion in September 2009,
and on January 3, 2010, ruled that Marullo should not be taken off the
case. Her attorney stated she would appeal the ruling to the state
supreme court, which had already overruled both of Marullo's death
warrants. However, yet another lower court state judge, Lynda Van
Davis, ruled in October 2010 that Marullo had to be recused from the
Frank and Lacaze cases because it was unclear if he had been open with
the defense teams about his own surprising connection to the gun used
in the restaurant murders. If Frank were to be executed, she would be
the first woman to be put to death in the state since 1942.
Frank's case was featured in an episode of
Deadly Women titled "Born Bad." It was initially aired by the
Investigation Discovery cable channel October 29, 2009. The crime was
re-enacted, and several individuals connected with prosecuting the
case were interviewed, with commentary by Candice DeLong and forensic
pathologist Janis Amatuzio. Investigation Discovery revisited the case
in an episode of Fatal Encounters, focusing on the interaction
between Williams and Frank in the nine hours prior to the shootings.
Frank's case was also featured on an episode of the
investigative documentary series Uncovered titled "900 Women,"
which dealt with the struggles of the inmates at the Louisiana
Correctional Institute for Women. The Uncovered episode aired
in 2008 and was part of the series' last season. It is currently in
rebroadcasting on the Crime & Investigation Network. The episode is
narrated by actress Susan Sarandon. The Kim Ahn murders were
dramatized on the police procedural "Homicide: Life on the Street" in
the episode titled "Saigon Rose" (Season 6, Episode 6).
Initially, the Vu family's restaurant in New
Orleans East remained open at the site of the tragedy. Hurricane
Katrina damaged the restaurant in 2005, and post-storm looters stole
jewelry which Ha and Cuong had been wearing when they were killed.
After that, Cuoc Vu and his mother Nguyet sold the old location and
re-opened in Harahan, Louisiana, moving their residence to Metairie,
where they said they felt more safe.
Death penalty upheld for N.O. ex-cop
By Gary Sheets - Nola.com
May 23, 2007
Antoinette Frank, the New Orleans police officer
who led a murderous rampage in 1995 at a Vietnamese restaurant, was
properly sentenced to die by lethal injection at her trial, the
Louisiana Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a 5-2 decision.
The triple killing committed by Frank during an
armed robbery at the eastern New Orleans restaurant where she once
worked security horrified the city and became the nadir of a
historically corrupt police department. It took the jury a mere 22
minutes to determine her guilt. Sentencing her to death took less than
And 12 years after being sentenced to die, the
state Supreme Court again upheld the verdict.
"The death sentence imposed in this case does not
appear disproportionate," Justice Catherine Kimball wrote for the
majority. "Evidence at trial established the cold-blooded and callous
disregard for human life exhibited in these killings. Nothing
contained in the post-trial documents filed pursuant to (state law)
warrants reversal of defendant's death sentence."
At issue in the appeal was not Frank's guilt or
whether her trial proceeded fairly. Instead, the state Supreme Court
weighed whether Judge Frank Marullo, who presided over Frank's
weeklong trial, erred in refusing to find her indigent and entitled to
state-paid experts to help navigate her defense through the death
Kimball and the rest of the majority found her
death sentence properly rendered by the courts and the jury.
But Chief Justice Pascal Calogero and Justice
Bernette Johnson dissented in Tuesday's ruling, finding that Frank was
denied her right as a capital murder defendant to have a "meaningful
consideration" of all favorable evidence.
After the jury convicted Frank of three counts of
first-degree murder, it returned the next day to preside over the
death penalty phase, itself a mini-trial in which almost anything is
fair game for prosecutors and defense attorneys.
But Frank had no expert assistance on her side,
Calogero noted. Typically, a defense attorney in a capital case hires
a "mitigation expert" well-versed in digging through the personal
history of the defendant in an attempt to spare her from death row.
Frank, 36, is one of two women on Louisiana's death
row at the women's prison in St. Gabriel.
Emotions remain raw across New Orleans when it
comes to the case of Antoinette Frank.
Together with her teenage companion, Frank killed
Ronald Williams, 25, an off-duty New Orleans cop, and two of the
restaurant owner's children, Cuong Vu, 17, and Ha Vu, 24. The
high-profile case riveted the public as details emerged such as the
fact that Frank had scored poorly on an NOPD psychological exam yet
still earned a uniform, badge and gun.
Frank knew all her victims. She and Williams
moonlighted as security guards for the Vu family, which ran the Kim
Anh Restaurant on Bullard Avenue.
Rogers Lacaze, Frank's accomplice, also was
convicted of the three murders and remains on Louisiana's death row at
the prison in Angola.
Unlike most criminal trials at Orleans Parish
Criminal District Court, Frank's case was handled quickly. Indicted in
April 1995, Frank had been convicted and sent to death row by
mid-September of the same year.
The prosecutors at the time, Glen Woods and
Elizabeth Teel, had plenty of evidence to secure a conviction and a
death sentence. Chau Vu, 23, and Quoc Vu, 19, who survived by hiding
in a walk-in cooler, provided eloquent testimony at trial.
Woods and Teel took turns shaming Frank during the
death penalty phase, assuring the jury that her death by lethal
injection would be relatively painless compared to the horror inside
the Kim Anh.
The state's closing argument included, "Antoinette
Frank not only deserves to die, she needs to die."
But evidence of guilt is not the issue at hand,
"Notwithstanding the evidence of the defendant's
guilt, I believe the absence of mitigation expert assistance
prejudiced the defendant in this case and that the sentencing process
was fatally flawed," Calogero wrote in a dissent joined by Johnson. "A
capital defendant has an absolute right under the Eighth Amendment to
introduce virtually any evidence in mitigation at the penalty phase of
a capital trial."
Killer Behind a Badge
by Charles Hustmyre
When Chau Vu saw the battered red and white Ford
Torino pull into the parking lot of her family's restaurant for the
third time that night – this time just before 2 a.m. – she knew
something bad was going to happen. "I just had a feeling," Chau said
later. "...inside, something told me it was not right."
The driver of the Torino was 24-year-old Antoinette
Frank, an off-duty New Orleans police officer, who sometimes worked a
uniformed, extra-duty security detail at the restaurant.
Friday night’s business had been slow, and in the
early hours of this cool and drizzly Saturday morning, March 4, 1995,
Chau’s mother had already left, leaving Chau, her older sister, and
two teenage brothers to clean up the Kim Anh Vietnamese restaurant on
the eastern edge of New Orleans, just a couple of miles from Lake
Dressed in a leather jacket, green blouse, and
black jeans, Frank tugged on the glass door. She wanted to get in, but
the door was locked. Frank had already been to the restaurant twice
since her patrol shift ended at 11 p.m. On her second trip she'd
brought someone she introduced as her nephew, 18-year-old Rogers
LaCaze. Although LaCaze stood just 5-foot-2 and weighed 135 pounds,
his mouthful of gold teeth and his attitude frightened Chau. She
didn't like him.
"I always heard gangsters had gold teeth," Chau
Chau didn't like Frank much either. Officer
Williams, who ran the security detail and scheduled the other
officers, had been working at the restaurant since 9 p.m. After Frank
had left the second time, Williams warned Chau that she was bad news.
Williams didn't trust her, but although she wasn't authorized to work
the detail, he had to sometimes use her to fill in for him or the
other officers if one of them couldn't make it.
In the kitchen, 23-year-old Chau Vu was suddenly
scared by Frank's sudden return. She had over $10,000 in cash spread
out on a table, money her mother had borrowed to repair the plumbing
and expand the parking lot. Chau grabbed all the money and stuffed it
into the microwave oven. Her older sister, Ha, and 17-year-old
brother, Cuong, were cleaning up the kitchen and saw where she hid the
Quoc Vu, Chau's 18-year-old brother, stood behind
the bar, talking with Officer Williams, who sat on one of barstools.
As Frank shook the door, Quoc stepped away from the bar and yelled to
his sister that the off-duty officer wanted to come in.
"Don't open the door!" Chau shouted from the
Quoc watched as Frank unlocked the front door. She
wasn't supposed to have a key to the restaurant; in fact, Quoc’s
sister's keys had been missing since Frank's earlier visit that
With the money hidden, Chau rushed into the dinning
room. Officer Williams stood up. He was just over six feet tall and
weighed 225 pounds. As Frank barged into the dinning room, Williams
asked her where she'd gotten the key, but she ignored him and started
pushing Chau and Quoc toward the kitchen.
Officer Williams turned and had his back to the
door as Rogers LaCaze slipped into the restaurant carrying a 9mm
pistol in his hand.
In the kitchen, Frank said, "Chau, I need to talk
"That's when I heard the shooting," Chau recalled.
"Boom, boom, boom!"
LaCaze fired his first shot from close range, the
muzzle of the pistol less than 18 inches from the back of Officer
According to the medical examiner, the trajectory
was almost horizontal as the bullet severed the officer's spinal cord.
LaCaze fired again, striking Williams in the back
of the neck. Then, as the officer's body tumbled toward the floor,
LaCaze fired once more, the bullet tearing into Williams's back.
The killer bent over the fallen body and snatched
the dead officer's pistol from its holster. Then he reached into
Williams's back pocket and removed his wallet.
Frank gave Chau and Quoc one last shove, then
turned and raced toward the front. Chau grabbed her brother and a
restaurant employee name Vui, a 45-year-old Vietnamese woman who spoke
no English, and ran toward the walk-in cooler farther back in the
building. Over her shoulder, she called for Ha and Cuong to follow
her, but they didn't move. Once inside the cooler, Chau and Quoc
peeked through one of the glass doors and caught glimpses of Frank and
LaCaze as they ransacked the kitchen. Because there was no way to lock
the door from the inside, Chau's only hope was that Antoinette
wouldn't think to look for them inside the cooler.
"I saw Antoinette digging in the area that we hide
our money in," Quoc Vu said, "then she started running towards where
my brother and sister were."
After Frank and LaCaze found the money, Frank
snatched the cordless phone from its cradle at the bar. Seconds later,
she stood over the kneeling forms of Ha and Cuong Vu, holding the same
9mm pistol LaCaze had just used to kill Williams. At her feet, the
brother and sister held hands. They prayed and begged her not to kill
them. As Quoc watched through the window of the cooler, Frank started
shooting: four, five, six...10 shots total. Quoc wanted to run but
Chau held him back, telling him that Frank would kill him if she saw
Cuong didn't die right away. "He was kind of
moaning," Frank said later in a statement to homicide detectives. So
she shot him again, then started looking for Chau and her brother.
According to LaCaze, when Frank couldn't find them,
she looked at him and said, "One of the bitches got away."
Inside the cooler, time dragged by. Chau and the
others had ducked as soon as they heard the shots, but eventually Chau
stood on a rack and peeked through a window that looked out over the
parking lot. A few minutes later, she saw Frank's car speeding away.
After waiting several more minutes to make sure the two robbers were
really gone, Chau crept out of the cooler. The restaurant was silent.
On the blood-soaked kitchen floor were Cuong and Ha
Vu, both shot dead. (Cuong had been planning for a life as a Catholic
Chau kept her head low and made her way around to
the bar, hoping to find Ronnie Williams, the policeman who was
supposed to protect them. She found the officer behind the bar, face
down on the floor.
"I saw Ronnie was lying down, with all the blood
around him," Chau said.
The bar telephone was missing, but under the bar,
Chau spotted her purse. In it was her new cellular phone. She grabbed
her purse and ran back into the cooler. There, she dialed 9-1-1 but
couldn't get through. She was terrified Frank and LaCaze would return
and kill them. She called again but still couldn't reach an emergency
operator. Finally, in desperation, she phoned a friend and begged him
to call for help. She said, "The police officer was killed."
Quoc wanted to make sure the police were on the
way. He slipped out of the restaurant and ran to a nearby friend's
house to use the telephone.
Within minutes Quoc phoned 9-1-1 from his friend's
house. In the recorded emergency call he repeatedly told the operator
that a police officer named Antoinette and a man had come into the
restaurant and started shooting everyone inside.
At the New Orleans Police Seventh District station,
Officer Frank stormed through the front door. She told the desk
officer that she needed to borrow a police car to respond to a
shooting at the Kim Anh restaurant. She grabbed the keys to one of the
marked police cars and left.
In the cooler, Chau and Ms. Vui prayed. When Chau
peered outside, she saw a marked police car cruise through the parking
lot, then disappear.
"There is only one police car, and then I – I still
don't feel safe because I know that Antoinette is a cop." Chau’s
instincts were correct: Frank, with a .38 revolver tucked inside her
waistband, was the first police officer to arrive. She parked her
borrowed police cruiser next door at the State Farm insurance office
and headed back to the restaurant.
Within a few minutes, a second car pulled into the
parking lot. It was unmarked, but to Chau it looked like a police car.
Two men got out. They wore police uniforms.
Chau threw open the cooler, bolted through the
front door, and ran to the unmarked police car. The two uniformed
officers were Wayne Farve and Reginald Jacques, both veteran
detectives. They had been working an extra-duty detail nearby when the
call came over the radio of a shooting at the Kim Anh. Moments later,
the dispatcher upgraded the call, saying a police officer had been
shot. Police cars started racing to the scene.
Farve saw a young Vietnamese woman running toward
him from the restaurant being chased by a black woman. Farve
recognized the second woman as a police officer.
Behind Farve and Jacques, another unmarked police
car skidded to a stop in the parking lot. A female officer jumped out
from behind the wheel. She was Detective Yvonne Farve, Wayne Farve's
wife and an 18-year police veteran. She didn't know Antoinette Frank.
Chau spotted Yvonne Farve and dashed into her arms.
Wayne Farve stopped Frank and asked her where the
"In the back," she said.
Reginald Jacques crept around to the back while
Wayne Farve went through the front door. Inside they found only the
Chau was nearly hysterical but wanted to check on
her brother and sister. Yvonne Farve walked her inside the restaurant.
As Frank started to follow, Yvonne Farve grabbed
her arm and asked who she was.
"I'm a 26," Frank answered, giving the code for a
police officer. Frank then looked at Chau Vu as if seeing her for the
first time that night. "Chau, what happened to your brother and
Through her tears, Chau said, "You were there. You
know everything. Why you ask me that question?"
They entered the dining room and Yvonne Farve saw
her husband kneeling over the body of Ronnie Williams, checking for
"He just looked at me and shook his head," Yvonne
In the cramped kitchen, Yvonne Farve saw the bodies
of Ha and Cuong Vu. Cuong lay on his side, knees pulled up to his
chest. He had been shot six times, the bullets striking him in the
head, chest, abdomen, right arm, and right leg. His older sister, Ha,
was still on her knees, her forehead resting against the floor. She'd
been shot four times, in the head, the right arm, and the right leg.
With Frank standing out of sight behind her, Yvonne
Farve asked Chau who did it.
Chau said "Antoinette" and a short black man with
gold teeth had come into the restaurant. "They were shooting
everybody," she said.
Not recognizing the name, Yvonne asked who
Antoinette was. Chau pointed behind Yvonne Farve to Officer Antoinette
Homicide investigators, Sgt. Eddie Rantz and Det.
Marco Demma, arrived at the Kim Anh restaurant about 30 minutes after
Frank told the two detectives that she'd been in
the kitchen getting something to drink when she heard gunshots in the
dining room. Unarmed and without a radio to call for help, she claimed
to have hustled some of the restaurant workers out through the back
door, then jumped in her car and raced to the police station to report
the shots. Frank said that at the station she'd told the desk officer
what had happened, then grabbed a police car and returned to the
restaurant to help moments before the other officers arrived.
While working a homicide, one of the first things
Sgt. Rantz does is get to know the crime scene. As he walked the
bloody scene at the Kim Anh, he noticed that the screen door at the
back of the restaurant was locked. It made him wonder about Frank's
story, so he went back to her and asked about it.
"After she told me how she'd saved those kids by
leading them out the back door," Rantz later said, "I asked her how
she'd managed to lock the screen door from the inside."
Frank didn't have an answer.
"That's when she started talking about Rogers
LaCaze," Rantz said. "I asked her if she had a gun on her. She told me
The detectives heard a different story from Chau
and Quoc Vu, and after hearing it, Rantz walked up to the chief of
police, who'd just arrived on the scene. "I told the chief, we were
about to book this motherfucker (Frank) for first-degree murder."
"She told me she didn't have a gun, but I started
patting her down and I found one." From Frank's waistband, Rantz
pulled a .38-revolver.
Her behavior and attitude stunned even seasoned
homicide detectives. "She is, without a doubt, the most cold-hearted
person I've ever met," Rantz said.
Rantz sent a team of detectives to find Rogers
LaCaze while he and Demma took Frank into custody, handcuffed her, and
drove her to the homicide office.
On the third floor of police headquarters, where
the homicide detectives are officed, Rantz and Demma interviewed Frank
for several hours. In a taped statement, Frank maintained that LaCaze
had killed Officer Williams, but confessed that she had killed Ha and
Cuong Vu in the kitchen.
She said she had executed the brother and sister
because LaCaze had made her do it. According to her statement, Rogers
handed her the gun he'd shot Williams with, and pressed the dead
officer's pistol against her head. If she hadn't shot the two young
Vietnamese, LaCaze would have killed her.
The detectives asked why she hadn't turned the gun
on LaCaze and shot him instead of killing Ha and Cuong, or why later
she hadn’t used her police radio – which they had found under the
front seat of her car – to call for help.
All she said was, "I was too scared. I was
Explaining why he thinks Frank grabbed a police car
and rushed back to the scene, Sgt. Rantz later said, "There's no doubt
in my mind, she went back there to kill the rest of them."
Frank Meets LaCraze
Antoinette Frank met Rogers LaCaze the night of
Nov. 25, 1994. While on patrol, Frank was one of several officers
dispatched to the scene of a double shooting. LaCaze and a friend,
Nemiah Miller, had both been shot during a drug deal gone bad.
"He got shot behind a dope deal," said Alice
Chaney, LaCaze's mother. "Rogers and Nemiah had just scored, and the
boy who shot them told them that he had to get it (the dope) from
them. They thought he was joking, because he was their friend, but he
"Rogers was a dope dealer," Chaney added. "That was
Over the next few weeks the 24-year-old police
officer visited the 18-year-old, small-time drug dealer in the
hospital and at home. She bought him a cell phone, expensive clothes,
even rented him a new Cadillac. LaCaze drove Frank's police car while
she was working, he went on police calls with her, and on Feb. 4,
1995, a month before the Kim Anh murders, he jumped out of her patrol
car with a Tec-9, 9mm pistol, and threatened to kill a man he'd gotten
into an argument with at a party earlier that night.
The week before the robbery and murders at the Kim
Anh restaurant, Frank reported her Beretta 9mm pistol stolen. LaCaze,
who was at her house when a police officer arrived to take the report,
later said that the gun hadn't really been stolen.
On the afternoon the day before the robbery, a
couple of hours into her 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. patrol shift, Frank and
LaCaze went to Wal-Mart together to buy 9mm bullets.
Two months before the robbery, New Orleans police
detectives searched Officer Frank's house, looking for her brother
Adam Frank Jr., a fugitive from Opelousas, La., who'd been staying
with her. Adam Frank was wanted on two counts of attempted
manslaughter and probation violation.
Adam Frank Sr., Antoinette's father, had also been
living with her until September 1993, when she'd reported him missing.
He hasn't been seen since.
Frank Becomes a Cop
Antoinette Frank had been interested in becoming a
New Orleans police officer since she was 16-years-old, when she
belonged to New Orleans Police Explorer Post 560. She wrote a letter
expressing that desire. In it, she said:
I perceive myself to be a strong young woman with
guts and who is willing to endure any obstacles to become the best
law enforcement officer I can be.
But at Opelousas High School, where she graduated
in 1989, the self-proclaimed "strong young woman" was a non-entity.
She doesn't even appear in any of the yearbooks during her years
there. Mrs. Hertz, one of her homeroom teachers remembered, "She
didn't make any impression on me, good or bad."
In early 1992, Frank began her quest to become a
New Orleans police officer, yet almost from the start there were
problems. On both her application and during the interview with the
police investigator assigned to conduct her background investigation,
she spun a story about being transferred from a Wal-Mart in Opelousas
to one in New Orleans, yet the Opelousas store’s personnel department
told the investigator that Frank had been fired for "personality
conflicts with other associates" and was not eligible for rehire.
Despite the lie, the police investigator rated
Frank as an acceptable police applicant.
In March 1992, as part of the application process,
Frank took two widely used, standardized personality assessments. The
psychologist who reviewed her test scores ranked her as "poor," the
lowest score possible, in the areas of tolerance, open-mindedness, and
impulse control; and ranked her as "below average" in stability,
maturity, and the probability of adjusting to organizations. Among
other concerns, the psychologist cited Frank's extreme lack of
tolerance and flexibility, and suggested a psychiatric evaluation.
Later, at the conclusion of that evaluation, the
psychiatrist who interviewed Frank rated her as unacceptable in
integrity, forthrightness, and willingness to accept responsibility.
The doctor concluded by saying, "I do not feel...that the applicant is
suitable for the job of police officer."
For a few days in January 1993, Frank disappeared
after meeting with an attorney in a downtown office building. Her
father, who had been waiting for her outside, filed a missing person's
report with the police after finding a note his daughter had left
behind that said, "I was doomed since the day I was born...I hate
myself and my life."
But Frank did eventually turn up, and two weeks
later the New Orleans Police Department hired her. In July 1993, she
graduated from the Police Academy and was issued New Orleans police
badge No. 628.
According to her patrol supervisor and other
officers who worked with her, Frank was a lousy cop.
Because of the case's high profile, and the
international media attention it had garnered, the New Orleans
district attorney decided to try LaCaze and Frank separately. LaCaze
went to trial first. In a risky move, he took the stand in his own
defense, attempting to recant the taped confession he had given to
"They beat me," he said. "The inside of my mouth
was busted. That's documented at Central Lock Up."
He admitted he'd been at the restaurant earlier
with Frank, but said he was across town shooting pool with his brother
when the robbery took place.
But, according to a statement his brother gave to
the police, LaCaze told him "Antoinette really fucked up." Rogers
admitted to his brother that they had planned the robbery for about a
week, that he had shot the policeman, but said Frank had shot the
The jury heard the taped statement LaCaze had given
to detectives the morning after the shootings. On the tape, LaCaze
explained that Frank was mad at Officer Williams.
"Ronnie always be fucking her over," he said. "He
be messin' over her, and they (the Vu family) do anything he say."
According to LaCaze, "She was going to get them
While LaCaze denied being at the restaurant during
the shootings, the one thing he couldn't deny was that he had used
Officer Williams's credit card to buy $15.29 worth of gas just 45
minutes after the murders.
Dismissing the mountain of evidence against his
client, Willie Turk, LaCaze's defense attorney, said after the trial,
"If Rogers had not used that credit card, he would have gotten off."
In July 1995, just four months after the gruesome
murders, the jury found LaCaze guilty of three counts of first-degree
murder and sentenced him to death by lethal injection.
From his tiny cell on death row, LaCaze still
maintains his innocence, claiming he is as much a victim as Ronald
Williams, and Ha and Cuong Vu.
While in prison, Rogers received a note from Frank.
It was short, and said only, "Stick to your innocence. I'm proud of
you. God keep you."
Antoinette Frank's trial began six weeks after
LaCaze's ended. During her trial, the jury toured the murder scene. In
the kitchen, Det. Marco Demma showed jury members where they'd found
the bodies of Ha and Cuong Vu. "You can see it is a small confined
area, and the bodies were close together on the floor..."
After the state presented its case, Frank's defense
team rested without calling any of their 39 potential witnesses, or
introducing any evidence.
In October 1995 the jury sentenced Frank to death
for the murders of Officer Ronald Williams and Ha and Cuong Vu.
A month after the jury sentenced Frank to die by
lethal injection, a dog uncovered human bones under the house where
she lived with her father, whom she had reported missing two years
Experts who examined the remains – an arm, a leg,
sections of spine, and a skull – have not been able to make a positive
identification, but have determined that they are those of a man about
the same age as Frank's father. From death row, Frank denies any
knowledge of the skeletal remains, and refuses to provide DNA samples
The skull has a bullet hole in it.
After more than seven years as the only woman on
Louisiana's Death Row, Frank continues to file appeals, claiming she
is the victim of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, both inherited from
her missing father, a Vietnam War veteran, and caused by her father,
whom she now claims molested her when she was a child.
In their appeals, Frank's lawyers fight for a new
penalty phase and another chance in front of a jury that could change
her death sentence to a life sentence.
Remarking on what could happen should Frank win an
appeal, Attorney Frank Larre' said, "The best she can get is life in
Frank sits in a cell at the women's prison in St.
Garbiel, La., awaiting execution.
The Vu family still owns and operates the Kim Anh
Chau Vu and Mary Williams, Officer Williams's
widow, have become close friends and see each other often.
Blue on Blue: Murder, Madness and Betrayal in
By Chuck Hustmyre
Saturday, March 4, 1995. 1:55 A.M. New Orleans
Antoinette Frank stood in the cramped kitchen of
the Kim Anh restaurant, a 9mm pistol clutched in her hand. Kneeling on
the dirty floor at Franks feet were 17-year-old Cuong Vu and his
24-year-old sister, Ha.
Cuong was an altar boy at St. Brigid Catholic
Church. He played high school football and wanted to be a priest. Ha
was considering becoming a nun. Both worked long hours at their
Frank fired nine bullets into
Ha Vu died instantly. When
detectives found her, she was still on her knees, her forehead resting
on the floor.
Cuong took longer to die.
Frank shot him repeatedly in the chest and back, but his young
athletes heart continued to beat. Frank heard him trying to talk, so
she shot him again. This time firing two bullets into Cuongs head.
Frank and her
partner-in-crime, an 18-year-old thug named Rogers LaCaze, ransacked
Bullard Avenue restaurant
until they found what they were looking for money.
Frank and LaCaze bolted
through the dining room. On their way to the front door they passed
Ronnie Williams. Williams was a 25-year-old
New Orleans police officer assigned
to the 7th District. His shift had ended at 11 p.m. and he
had come straight to the restaurant to work a security detail.
Williams needed the extra money. Ten days earlier his wife had given
birth to the couples second son, Patrick.
Still in his police uniform,
Officer Ronnie Williams was face down behind the bar in a pool of
blood. Hed been shot twice in the head and once in the back.
LaCaze had Ronnie Williamss
gun and his wallet.
Outside, Frank and LaCaze
piled into a battered 1977 Ford Torino. As the car screeched out of
the parking lot, a sun-yellowed cardboard sign fluttered on the
dashboard in front of the steering wheel. Printed on either end of the
foot-wide rectangular placard was the star and crescent symbol of the
New Orleans Police Department. In the center of the sign, between the
symbols, were the words NEW ORLEANS POLICE OFFICER ON DUTY.
The sign and the car belonged
to Officer Antoinette Frank, a
New Orleans cop who worked out of
the 7th District. She, too, had just gotten off at 11 p.m.
Frank was on the same platoon, and worked the same shift, as Williams.
The two officers had worked together every day for more than a year.
A Police Department in Despair
Few would deny that in 1995
the New Orleans Police Department was in sad shape. The agency was
losing about 100 officers per year, many of them fired or arrested,
and hiring only half that many.
In 1994, two officers were
arrested for murder. One for killing a man the officer suspected of
breaking into his apartment; the other for ordering the execution of a
woman who had filed a brutality complaint against him.
Then in December 1994, the FBI
New Orleans cops on federal drug
CBSs Mike Wallace branded
New Orleans The No. 1 city in the
nation for police brutality and corruption. Mayor Marc Morial told
Time magazine, I inherited a police department that was a shambles.
By the start of 1995, things
were bad, but they were about to get a lot worse.
Officer Antoinette Frank "the
woman who would become the poster child for police misconduct and the
living symbol of a department gone bad" had just met Rogers LaCaze.
Just past his 18th birthday,
LaCaze already had a history of violence and drug peddling. His
mother, Alice Chaney, kicked him out of the house when he was 17. "Rogers
had become a dope dealer," she says.
At the end of 1994, LaCaze got
shot. He told police that he and his friend, Nemiah Miller, were
hanging out when another friend, a 19-year-old who went by the name
"Freaky D," whipped out a gun and opened fire on them.
Alice Chaney has her own
opinion for the reason behind the shooting. "It was behind a dope
deal," Ms. Chaney says. "Rogers and Nemiah had just scored."
Miller died. LaCaze went to
the hospital. One of the investigating officers was Antoinette Frank.
Frank said she always wanted to be a police
officer. Born in
Opelousas, she was a member of the
Opelousas Junior Police and the New Orleans Police Explorers. When she
turned 20, Frank applied to the New Orleans Police Department.
Almost immediately, Franks
application ran into problems. The applicant investigation unit
discovered Frank had been fired from Wal-Mart and had lied about it on
her application. She also scored poorly on two standardized
psychological evaluations. The psychologist who reviewed Franks tests
recommended a psychiatric interview.
Dr. Philip Scurria, a board-certified psychiatrist,
evaluated Frank on 14 characteristics relevant to the job of a police
officer. He rated Frank as unacceptable or below average in most. In
his report, Dr. Scurria wrote that Frank seemed shallow and
superficial. He concluded by saying, I do not feel ... that the
applicant is suitable for the job of police officer.
Apparently depressed over her
faltering job prospects, Frank disappeared. She left a half-baked
suicide note addressed to her father at a downtown office building.
Her dad filed a missing-persons report, but Frank turned up the next
Less than three weeks later
the police department hired her anyway.
A Twisted Duo
After LaCaze got out of the
hospital, he started getting regular visits from Officer Frank. She
took him shopping for new clothes. She got him a pager and a cell
phone. She even rented him a Cadillac.
Frank became obsessed with
him, LaCaze says.
She started driving him around
in her police car. She even answered calls with LaCaze and introduced
him as her trainee. Two officers from the 7th District once
saw LaCaze driving Franks patrol car. Then, the two of them started
hatching a plan to rob the Kim Anh restaurant.
Frank had been splitting the
security detail at the family-owned Vietnamese restaurant with Officer
Ronnie Williams for months. During that time, the Vu family, who owned
the restaurant, grew close to Frank and Williams. They treated Frank
almost like a member of the family.
The Vus took a real liking to
her, Franks ex-partner says. I mean they were in love with this girl.
They bought her presents for this, presents for that. Anything she
wanted, anything she needed, they gave her.
Frank knew the Vus distrusted
banks. She also knew they kept all their money in cash.
During the weeks leading up to
the robbery, Frank acquired a 9mm pistol from the NOPD evidence room.
Two weeks before the murders, she reported the gun stolen.
LaCaze was with Frank when a
police officer arrived at her house to take the report about the
stolen gun. LaCaze later told detectives that the report was bogus.
The pistol hadnt been stolen.
Just hours before they robbed
the Kim Anh and murdered three people, Frank and LaCaze stopped at
Wal-Mart to buy a box of 9mm bullets. Frank was on the clock, wearing
her police uniform and driving a patrol car.
Crime Scene Chaos
As soon as they heard the
explosion of gunshots from the dining room, 23-year-old Chau Vu and
her 18-year-old brother Quoc ran and hid in the restaurant's
walk-in cooler. Chau slammed the door shut as Quoc killed the lights.
The two of them huddled in the cold darkness.
Through the glass doors at the
front of the cooler and a window overlooking the kitchen, the pair
caught glimpses of Frank and LaCaze as they rummaged for cash. They
heard shouting, crying, more gunshots. Then silence.
After she was sure Frank and LaCaze had left, Chau
crawled into the dining room. Her cell phone was in her purse on a
shelf beneath the bar. She saw Ronnie Williams body on the floor.
"I saw Ronnie was lying with all the blood around
him. That's when all my confidence
was gone because the person that protects us was lying right there,"
Chau later said.
Chau grabbed her cell phone
and scrambled back into the cooler. She dialed 911 but couldn't
get through. She called a friend and begged him to call the police for
her. The friend asked what happened. The battery in Chau's
Quoc slipped out the back door
and ran to a friend's house to call
police. On the way out, he passed the bloody bodies of his brother and
Several blocks away, Frank was
fuming. "One of the bitches got away," she told LaCaze.
Frank had seen Chau and Quoc
inside the restaurant when she and LaCaze went in, but she'd lost
sight of them and couldn't find them again.
After dropping LaCaze off at
his apartment, Frank drove to the 7th District. There, she hopped into
a patrol car and raced back to the restaurant. She had a second gun a
.38 revolver tucked into the waistband of her jeans.
Sgt. Eddie Rantz, who supervised the homicide
investigation, says, "There's no
doubt in my mind she went back there to kill the rest of them."
Whether that was Frank's
intent, she never got the chance.
Chau hid in the cooler until
she saw police officers in the parking lot; then she bolted out the
front door and dove into the arms of Detective Yvonne Farve.
Frank stayed at the
restaurant. She caught a break because Chau was so scared she would
only speak Vietnamese at first.
In the initial confusion at
the crime scene, lead investigators Sgt. Eddie Rantz and Det. Marco
Demma had no idea that the young 7th District officer was one of the
shooters. They thought they had caught a break because one of their
witnesses was a trained police officer.
When the detectives questioned
her, Frank told them she had been in the kitchen getting something to
drink when she heard gunshots in the dining room. She said she tried
to push all the employees out through the back door.
Ha and Cuong wouldn't
leave, Frank said. They stayed in the kitchen. Frank told Rantz she
drove to the 7th District station to report the shooting.
But Frank had a cell phone and
a police radio with her. Why didn't
she call, instead of wasting time driving to the station? Rantz asked.
Why did she leave everybody, including a wounded police officer,
when she started talking about Rogers LaCaze," Rantz says. Frank wasn't
a witness, the veteran detective realized. She was a suspect. "I
wanted to vomit," Rantz recalls.
Soon enough, Chau calmed down
and told her story in English. Quoc returned to the restaurant and
also told the detectives what happened.
Rantz and Demma had heard enough. Rantz approached
Chief Richard Pennington in the parking lot. Pennington, a veteran
detective, had been on the scene for a while but was letting the
detectives run the show. "I told the chief,
about to book this motherfer with three counts of first-degree murder,'"
Later, at police headquarters,
with a tape recorder in front of her, Antoinette Frank confessed to
shooting Ha and Cuong Vu in the kitchen of the Kim Anh restaurant. Her
justification was simple: Rogers LaCaze made her do it.
The robbery, Frank said, was
all LaCaze's idea. He'd
been talking about it for a couple of weeks. She just went along with
it because she didn't know what else
Although ballistic evidence
later proved the same 9mm pistol was used to murder all three victims,
Frank refused to admit to shooting Officer Ronald Williams. She blamed
that murder on LaCaze.
Detectives found LaCaze at his
brother's apartment in
Gretna just a few hours after the
murders. It turned out that about 45 minutes after LaCaze left the Kim
Anh restaurant, he used Officer Williams's
credit card to buy $15 worth of gas at a station three blocks from his
After his arrest, LaCaze
admitted that he went into the restaurant with a gun but denied that
he shot anyone. Frank, he said, committed all three murders. He just
happened to be there.
Rogers LaCaze went on trial in
July 1995. He testified in his own defense. It was a bad move.
Against his attorney's
advice, LaCaze, a high school dropout with an IQ later measured in the
low 70s, pitted himself against lead prosecutor Glen Woods. Woods is a
soft-spoken contemplative man, but he has a mind like a scalpel, which
he had used to slice people apart on the witness stand. In the battle
of wits with Glen Woods, Rogers LaCaze was severely outmatched.
In the end, LaCaze was reduced
to blubbering on the stand and begging the jury to spare his life. "I
did not pull no trigger and kill them people," he pleaded. "I don't
even know them people."
Them people. They had names,
and Glen Woods knew them well: Ha Vu, Cuong Vu, Ronnie Williams.
Seeking justice for them was one of the defining moments of Woods'
career. "They were people, they had a life, they had aspirations, they
had dreams," he says.
The jury convicted LaCaze of
murder and recommended he be put to death.
Antoinette Frank went on trial
two months later. After prosecutors Woods and Elizabeth Teel rested
the state's case, Frank's
attorneys threw in the towel. Although they'd
subpoenaed nearly 40 witnesses, they didn't
call a single one.
The jury took just 40 minutes
to convict Frank of three counts of first-degree murder. They
recommended the death penalty.
After hearing the
recommendation from the jury, Woods said, "It would have been a
mockery of justice if Antoinette Frank was to walk away without
getting the death penalty."
In October 1995, Judge Frank
Marullo sentenced Antoinette Frank to death by lethal injection.
LaCaze got the same.
A month later, a dog found the
remains of a human skeleton buried beneath Frank's
house. It was the same house she once shared with her father. Frank
reported her father missing a year-and-a-half before the murders at
the Kim Anh restaurant.
There was a bullet hole in the
A decade after the case that
rocked the New Orleans Police Department and outraged the city and the
nation, much has changed.
Under Chief Richard
Pennington, the police department completely revamped its hiring
practices. It weeded out bad officers and hired good ones. Under Chief
Eddie Compass, the healing process continues.
Still, as bad as the old
hiring system was, in the case of Antoinette Frank, it worked at least
initially. The police department had a minimum of four glaring
indicators of Frank's unsuitability
for the job before they hired her.
Lying on her application and
pre-employment interview, two failed psychological evaluations, her
disastrous interview with the department psychiatrist, her strange
disappearance and half-hearted suicide note all were well known to
NOPD before they offered Frank a job.
So, why did they hire her?
In the early 1990s, the
department was severely short handed. They needed anybody who could
fit into a police uniform. Crime was ripping the city apart. In 1994,
the year before the Kim Anh murders, New Orleans
was the murder capital of the
United States. The
residency requirement restricted the police department to hiring only
those applicants who lived within Orleans Parish. To this day, that
policy still prevents NOPD from hiring well-qualified officers who
live in surrounding parishes.
And in a city that often
simmers with racial tensions, Antoinette Frank, as a black female, fit
the profile they were looking for. Hiring her allowed the police
department to chalk up one more hash mark for their nonexistent,
never-talked-about quota system.
As to why she did what she did, Frank now says it's
her father's fault. She claims to
have suffered years of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse at his
hands. It's a claim she only recently
But a psychiatrist who
examined Frank in 1995 and again in 1999 said she showed symptoms of
Narcissistic Personality Disorder with anti-social features. According
to the psychiatrist, Frank exhibits a lack of empathy toward others, a
feeling of entitlement, flies into rages, and is manipulative in
Rogers LaCaze has a simpler
diagnosis. In a letter from prison, he said, Antoinette is crazy.
Hell, she killed her own dad and buried him under her house.
After 27 years on the job,
Eddie Rantz retired. He went to law school and has a spacious office
on Poydras overlooking the Superdome. Sometimes he still thinks about
the case and about Antoinette Frank.
She is, without a doubt, the
most cold-hearted person Ive ever met, Rantz says.
Prosecutors Glen Woods and
Elizabeth Teel are both in private practice. Teel says the LaCaze and
Frank trials were the most traumatic of her career. Id be lying if I
said it wasnt personal.
In his office, Woods keeps a
picture of Ha and Cuong Vu. "It's
shocking the way they died," he says. The picture reminds him of the
evil that exists in the world.
Mary Williams, wife of Officer
Ronnie Williams, is busy raising their two boys, Christopher and
Patrick. She has grown very close to the Vu family. They see each
The Vus still own the Kim Anh
Antoinette Frank and Rogers LaCaze are on death
row, waiting to die and blaming everyone else, including each other,
for what happened.
As for those human bones
unearthed beneath Frank's house, so
far, authorities have made no serious effort to identify them. The
10-year-old case, they say, remains under investigation.
Supreme Court of Louisiana
State v. Frank
STATE of Louisiana v. Antoinette FRANK.
January 17, 2001
Frank J. Larre, Metarie, Denise LeBoeuf, New
Orleans, Nicholas J. Trenticosta, Counsel for Applicant.Richard P.
Ieyoub, Attorney General, Harry F. Connick, District Attorney,
Valentin M. Solino, Susan E. Talbot, Counsel for Respondent.
This is a direct appeal from a conviction of first
degree murder and a sentence of death. La. Const. art. V, § 5(D).
The defendant's appeal is based on a total of thirty-two assignments
However, the principal issues involve (1) the denial of the
defendant's pre-trial motion to be declared indigent for the purposes
of obtaining state-funded experts; and (2) the denial of the
defendant's motion for change of venue. We find that none of the
defendant's arguments concerning the guilt phase of her trial
constitute reversible error; therefore, the defendant's conviction is
affirmed. However, we find that the trial court erred by failing to
declare the defendant indigent for the purpose of allowing her the
opportunity to show entitlement to state-funded psychiatric and
mitigation expert assistance for the sentencing phase of her trial.
The defendant's case is, therefore, remanded to the trial court in
order for it to hold an evidentiary hearing as to whether the
defendant was entitled to state-funded expert assistance for the
penalty phase of her trial. If, after a hearing on the matter, the
court determines she was so entitled, it is to vacate the defendant's
sentence and order a new penalty phase at which the defendant will
have the benefit of that expert assistance. If the trial court finds
that the defendant cannot make the proper showing of need for
obtaining state funds, the defendant may appeal that decision to this
court along with the other assignments of error regarding the penalty
phase of her trial, the merits of which we do not reach at this time.
On March 4, 1995, the defendant, then an officer
with the New Orleans Police Department, and Rogers Lacaze were
arrested and charged with three counts of first degree murder for the
deaths of Ronald Williams, Ha Vu, and Cuong Vu. The murders occurred
in the early morning hours at the Kim Anh Restaurant in New Orleans
East. The Vu family owned the restaurant, and Ronald Williams was an
off-duty police officer performing security detail that evening at the
restaurant. The defendant had occasionally worked at the restaurant
as a security guard and was familiar with the Vu family and Ronald
Williams. She and her co-defendant visited the restaurant several
times on the night of the murders.
As the restaurant was closing early that morning,
Chau Vu, sister of two of the victims, went into the kitchen to count
money. She reentered the dining room of the restaurant to pay Ronald
Williams, when she noticed the defendant approaching the restaurant
yet again. Sensing something was wrong, Chau Vu ran back to the
kitchen and hid the money in the microwave before returning to the
front of the restaurant. Using a stolen key, the defendant entered
the restaurant and began to walk quickly to the back of the building,
pushing Chau, one of Chau's brothers, Quoc, and a restaurant employee
along with her. Shots rang out, and the defendant ran back to the
front of the restaurant. Chau, Quoc, and the employee hid in a
cooler in the kitchen, concerned because they did not know the
whereabouts of Chau's and Quoc's sister and brother, Ha and Cuong.
From inside the cooler, Chau and Quoc could partially see the front of
the restaurant. Chau initially could see the defendant, who appeared
to be looking for something. The defendant moved out of Chau's line
of vision, and then the three hiding heard additional gunshots. Quoc
next observed the defendant searching in the area where the Vus
usually kept their money. He then saw her walk over to the area
where he later found the bodies of his brother and sister, and he
heard more gunshots. After the defendant and Rogers Lacaze left the
premises, Quoc emerged from the cooler and called 911 to report the
After police officers arrived on the scene, the
defendant returned to the restaurant as well. She approached Chau,
asking her what happened. Chau found another officer and reported
what she had witnessed. After Chau was interviewed in more detail,
the defendant and Rogers Lacaze were arrested and charged with first
The defendant and Rogers Lacaze were indicted by an
Orleans Parish Grand Jury on April 28, 1995. Their trials were
severed, and Rogers Lacaze was tried first on July 17-21, 1995, found
guilty as charged, and sentenced to death. The defendant's trial
began on September 5, 1995, and on September 12, 1995, the jury
returned a guilty verdict on all counts and recommended a sentence of
death as to all counts. The defendant was formally sentenced to
death on October 20, 1995.
Motion to be Declared Indigent
In her first six assignment of errors, the
defendant argues that the trial court abused its discretion in not
finding her indigent. She further argues that she was entitled to
make a showing of need for state-funded experts, but that her right
was foreclosed by the court's denial of her motion on indigent status.
See State v. Touchet, 93-2839, p. 6 (La.9/6/94), 642 So.2d 1213,
1216 (holding that “for an indigent defendant to be granted the
services of an expert at the expense of the state, he must establish
that there exists a reasonable probability both that an expert would
be of assistance to the defense and that the denial of expert
assistance would result in a fundamentally unfair trial”).
On August 29, 1995, approximately one week before
the defendant's trial was to begin, the trial court conducted a brief
evidentiary hearing on the defendant's motion to have herself declared
The court allowed the defendant to take the stand and testify as to
her financial status and ability to pay for the expert services she
was requesting that the state fund. The defendant testified that her
mother had retained counsel for her, that neither she nor her family
owned any real property, that she owned a nineteen-year-old Ford Elite
which she bought for $600, that she had accrued benefits with the New
Orleans Police department but did not know how much or how she could
access the money, and that her mother had sold her furniture for
approximately $6000.00, which was used to pay pre-existing obligations
and her attorney's fee.
The trial court denied her motion on the following
day, stating that she was not indigent.3
In its November 27, 2000, per curiam to this court on the issue of
the defendant's indigent status, the trial court explained that it had
not found the defendant indigent, because it found that she had
certain funds available for her defense, consisting of $3800.00 in
pension benefits, $1800.00 from furlough time, and $6000.00 from the
sale of her furniture. Therefore, the trial court based its finding
on the fact that, at most, the defendant at one time had available the
approximate sum of $11,600.00 for her defense.
A trial court must consider several factors before
determining whether a defendant is indigent and may review its
determination at any time during the proceedings. Louisiana Rev.Stat.
15:147(B)(1) provides that:
In determining whether or not a person is indigent
and entitled to the appointment of counsel, the court shall consider
whether the person is a needy person and the extent of his ability to
pay. The court may consider such factors as income or funds from
employment or any other source, including public assistance, to which
the accused is entitled, property owned by the accused or in which he
has an economic interest, outstanding obligations, the number and ages
of dependents, employment and job training history, and level of
See also State v. Adams, 369 So.2d 1327, 1329
(La.1979) (citing La.Rev.Stat. 15:147 and 15:148); W. LaFave and J.
Israel, 2 Criminal Procedure § 11.2(e) (1984) (“recognizing that the
Supreme Court has never offered a specific definition of indigency,
but noting that most jurisdictions consider the following factors:
(1) income from employment and governmental programs such as social
security and unemployment benefits; (2) money on deposit; (3)
ownership of real and personal property; (4) total indebtedness and
expense; (5) the number of persons dependent on the appellant for
support; (6) the cost of the transcript on appeal; and (7) the
likely fee of retained counsel for the appeal.”).
Applying these factors for determining indigency to
the evidence adduced at the August 29, 1995, hearing and through the
trial court's investigation into the defendant's benefits from the
police department, the record reflects the following: (1) defendant
initially retained defense counsel through her mother; (2) defendant
had been terminated from the police force and was receiving no income;
(3) defendant had accrued retirement benefits of approximately
$3,800, which the trial court ordered to go directly to the court
reporters; (4) defendant had access to approximately $1800.00 from
furlough time; (5) defendant did not own any real property; (6)
defendant owned a 1976 Ford Elite for which she paid $600, and which
was impounded by police; (7) defendant had sold all her furniture and
effects two weeks after her arrest for approximately $6,000; (8)
defendant had her mother use money from sale of furniture to pay
existing debts and attorney's fees; (9) defendant's mother did not
own any real property and is disabled; and (10) defendant had $600 in
savings at the time of her arrest, and nothing in savings at the time
of the indigency hearing. In addition, with the motion to proceed as
an indigent, defendant and both her attorneys submitted affidavits
indicating that defendant had exhausted all of her personal funds.
Under the standards set forth in our
jurisprudential and statutory law, the defendant was indigent for the
purposes of obtaining state-funded expert assistance. Even if, at
one time, the defendant may have had access to approximately
$11,000.00, Louisiana law provides that the trial court may reassess a
determination of indigency at any time, in recognition of the fact
that a defendant's financial status may not be static and that a
defendant may become indigent at any point in the proceedings. See
La.Rev.Stat. 15:147(A)(1)(a) (providing that a determination of
indigency “may be reviewed by the court at any ․ stage of the
proceedings”); State v. Barnes, 496 So.2d 1056, 1059 (La.App. 4th
Cir.1986) (finding that a defendant is considered indigent for
sentencing purposes if he is found to be indigent at any point in the
proceedings, including while on appeal); State v. Huffman, 480 So.2d
396, 398-99 (La.App. 4th Cir.1985) (same).
On August 29, 1995, the defendant testified that
the $6000.00 received for her furniture had already been used to
satisfy pre-existing obligations and to pay attorney's fees.
Further, the trial judge ordered that the money the defendant had
accrued in her retirement fund go directly to the court reporters for
transcripts. At most, under the trial court's calculation, the
defendant was left with approximately $1800.00 at the time of the
pre-trial hearing. Even assuming she had access to that money to pay
counsel and assuming that the entire $6,000 in proceeds from the sale
of defendant's furniture all went to counsel's fee, that sum is low
compared to what a reasonable retained counsel might charge to
represent someone in a capital case. We further note that eight
months after the defendant's trial ended, the same trial judge
declared her indigent for purposes of her appeal, although the record
reflects no change in the defendant's financial status from the
Thus, we find that the trial judge abused his
discretion in not declaring the defendant indigent at the pre-trial
hearing. However, that determination does not end the inquiry, as
the court must now consider what, if any, prejudice the defendant
suffered as a result of not being declared indigent.
In Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68, 76, 105 S.Ct.
1087, 1092, 84 L.Ed.2d 53 (1985), the United States Supreme Court
construed the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause to guarantee
that, in a prosecution against an indigent defendant, the state “take
steps to assure that the defendant has a fair opportunity to present
his defense.” One “step” the state must take is to ensure that the
indigent defendant is provided with effective assistance of counsel.
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d
674 (1984). A further component of the state's obligation to provide
effective assistance of counsel is to also furnish the indigent
defendant's counsel with all of the “ ‘basic tools of an adequate
defense.’ ” Ake, 470 U.S. at 77, 105 S.Ct. at 1093 ( quoting Britt v.
North Carolina, 404 U.S. 226, 227, 92 S.Ct. 431, 433, 30 L.Ed.2d 400
The Court in Ake held that a state-funded
psychiatric expert is a “basic tool” for a defendant's case, “when the
defendant demonstrates to the trial judge that his sanity at the time
of the offense is to be a significant factor at trial․” 470 U.S. at
83, 104 S.Ct. at 1096. This court has extended the constitutional
right of indigent defendants recognized in Ake to other types of
expert assistance considered crucial to an indigent's defense.
For example, this court has held that the right to
a private investigator may in many cases be an adjunct to the right to
counsel, because furnishing counsel to the indigent defendant is not
enough if counsel cannot secure information on which to construct a
defense. State v. Madison, 345 So.2d 485, 490 (La.1977) (citing
United States v. Johnson, 238 F.2d 565, 572 (2d Cir.1956) (Frank, J.,
dissenting); Note, The Indigent's Right to an Adequate Defense:
Expert and Investigational Assistance in Criminal Proceedings, 55
Cornell L.Rev. 632 (1970); Note, Right to Aid in Addition to Counsel
for Indigent Criminal Defendants, 47 Minn.L.Rev. 1054 (1963); ABA
Standards for Criminal Justice Relating to Proving Defense Services
(1967), § 1.5 and commentary). In Madison, the court reiterated the
fundamental principle that the kind of trial a man gets cannot be made
to depend on the amount of money he has. Id. (citing Griffin v.
Illinois, 351 U.S. 12, 76 S.Ct. 585, 100 L.Ed. 891 (1956)).
Therefore, when an indigent defendant shows that his attorney is
unable to obtain existing evidence crucial to the defense, the means
to obtain it should be provided for him. Id. (finding that indigent
defendant in that case had not made a sufficient showing of need to
justify the procurement of an investigator).
In State v. Craig, 93-2515, 93-2654, 93-2589, p. 13
(La.5/23/94), 637 So.2d 437, 446-47, the court upheld a trial court
decision ordering payment for the services of an investigator, a
psychologist, and a mitigation expert, finding that those services
were necessary to provide the indigent defendant with an adequate
opportunity to present his defense. However, the court in Craig
recognized that an indigent defendant's unlimited right to
state-funded expert services would carry with it a great potential for
abuse. Id. at 446. Therefore, the court emphasized that an indigent
defendant wishing to obtain funding for the production or gathering of
any evidence must make a showing of the necessity for those services.
Id. at 447.
This court addressed the specific issue of what
showing an indigent needs to make in order to obtain state-funded
expert assistance in more detail in State v. Touchet, 93-2839
(La.9/6/94), 642 So.2d 1213. In that case, the court elaborated on
its holding in Craig, stating that:
Henceforth, for an indigent defendant to be granted
the services of an expert at the expense of the state, he must
establish that there exists a reasonable probability both that an
expert would be of assistance to the defense and that the denial of
expert assistance would result in a fundamentally unfair trial. To
meet this standard, a defendant must ordinarily establish, with a
reasonable degree of specificity, that the assistance is required to
answer a substantial issue or question that is raised by the
prosecution's case or to support a critical element of the defense.
If the trial court finds that the indigent defendant is able to meet
this standard, it is to authorize the hiring of the expert at the
expense of the state.
Id. at 1216.
The court's most recent pronouncement on this
subject is found in State v. Jones, 97-2593, p. 4 (La.3/4/98), 707
So.2d 975, 977, where it held that the retention of private counsel
from a collateral source of funds at no cost to the defendant did not
affect a defendant's ability to prove indigency. The court
recognized that regardless of whether a defendant derives any
assistance from an ancillary source, “[t]he determinative question is
the defendant's indigency” in assessing whether he or she is entitled
to make a showing of need for state-funded expert assistance. Id. The
court further suggested that even if a defendant retains counsel at
his own expense, he may still be eligible for state-funded auxiliary
services, but his alleged indigency status should be more closely
questioned. Id. The Jones court concluded that a defendant, who has
private counsel retained by a collateral source, may still be entitled
to state funding for expert assistance provided he or she can meet the
requirements articulated in Touchet. Id. at 977-78.
The court has made clear that an indigent defendant
is entitled to present a trial court with evidence of his or her need
for state-funded expert assistance at a hearing on the matter. See
Touchet, 642 So.2d at 1221. In the present case, the trial court
precluded the defendant from making such a showing of need by refusing
to find her indigent in the first place. While the defendant filed
an ex parte application for expert funding, specifically requesting
psychiatric/psychological expert assistance for both the guilt and
penalty phase of her trial and a mitigation expert/social worker for
the penalty phase and providing how much that assistance would cost,
the trial court failed to address the application or hold a hearing on
As a result, the defendant argues she was forced to go to trial
without necessary expert assistance, which prejudiced her ability to
present an adequate defense at both the guilt and penalty phase.5
Regarding the defendant's request for psychiatric
and/or psychological expert assistance for the guilt phase of her
trial, her argument that the trial court's error in not finding her
indigent precluded her from making the appropriate showing of need for
this assistance is without merit. Louisiana law is well-settled that
evidence of mental condition or defect is inadmissible at the guilt
phase of a capital case unless the defendant has pleaded not guilty by
reason of insanity. State v. Koon, 96-1208, p. 19 (La.5/20/97), 704
So.2d 756, 768; State v. Deboue, 552 So.2d 355, 366 (La.1989); State
v. Lecompte, 371 So.2d 239, 243 (La.1978), on rehearing, (La.5/21/79).
The defendant never argued that she was insane or incompetent to
proceed at trial, and, therefore, she was not entitled to admit
psychiatric testimony as to her mental condition during the guilt
phase in the first place. Therefore, the trial court's finding that
the defendant was not indigent had no bearing whatsoever on the
outcome of her case during the guilt phase of the trial.
However, because both this court and the Supreme
Court have repeatedly stressed that a capital defendant has the right
to introduce virtually any evidence in mitigation during the penalty
phase of a capital trial, we find the trial court committed error in
not allowing the indigent defendant the opportunity to make a showing
under Touchet as to her need for state-funded assistance for the
purpose of presenting any such mitigating evidence. See State v.
Brumfield, 96-2667, p. 50 (La.10/20/98), 737 So.2d 660, 686
(citingLockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586, 605-606, 98 S.Ct. 2954, 57
L.Ed.2d 973 (1978); State ex rel. Busby v. Butler, 538 So.2d 164
(La.1988)). By not allowing a hearing on the matter, the trial court
did not provide this court with adequate information upon which to
review the question of whether the defendant was entitled to the
expert assistance she requested for the penalty phase of her trial and
what prejudice she may have suffered as a result of not obtaining
See State v. Prestridge, 399 So.2d 564, 581 (La.1981) (stating that
when an indigent defendant has been denied funds to obtain expert
assistance, the issue on review becomes whether the denial of funds
substantially prejudiced the defendant at trial); State v. Monroe,
397 So.2d 1258, 1266 (La.1981) (finding that the indigent defendant
was not substantially prejudiced by the denial of expert assistance at
We therefore find it necessary to remand the case
for an evidentiary hearing at which the defendant will be afforded the
opportunity to make the necessary showing under Touchet for obtaining
state-funded expert assistance. If she is able to meet the standards
provided in Touchet, the trial court is to vacate the defendant's
sentence, order a new penalty hearing, and order that state funds be
procured so that the defendant may hire the requested experts to
assist her defense at the sentencing hearing. If the trial court
finds that the defendant can not make the proper showing of need, the
defendant may appeal that decision to this court along with the other
assignments of error concerning the penalty phase of her trial.
The defendant's conviction is affirmed for the
reasons that her indigent status did not have any effect on her case
during the guilt phase of the trial and because we do not find that
any of her other arguments constitute reversible error.
Motion for Change of Venue
In her seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth
assignments of error, the defendant argues that the trial court erred
by denying her motion for a change of venue.
After the first two individuals on the first panel
of prospective jurors were examined, defense counsel filed a motion to
change venue on grounds that widespread publicity in the parish had
deprived the defendant of the opportunity for a fair trial. The
trial court expressed some surprise that defense counsel had not filed
a pre-trial motion on this issue, but recognized that the motion could
be filed at any time at which it appeared the defendant's Sixth
Amendment Rights were being violated. The trial court allowed the
motion to be made, but ordered that jury selection continue. Jury
selection was completed in one day. On the following morning,
September 6, 1995, the trial court heard arguments from both sides on
the motion for change of venue and ultimately denied the motion.
A defendant is guaranteed an impartial jury and a
fair trial. To accomplish this end, the law provides for a change of
venue when a defendant demonstrates his inability to obtain an
impartial jury or fair trial at the place of original venue. State v.
Bell, 315 So.2d 307, 309 (La.1975) (citing Groppi v. Wisconsin, 400
U.S. 505, 91 S.Ct. 490, 27 L.Ed.2d 571 (1971); Chapman v. California,
386 U.S. 18, 87 S.Ct. 824, 17 L.Ed.2d 705 (1967); Sheppard v.
Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333, 86 S.Ct. 1507, 16 L.Ed.2d 600 (1966); Estes v.
Texas, 381 U.S. 532, 85 S.Ct. 1628, 14 L.Ed.2d 543 (1965); Rideau v.
Louisiana, 373 U.S. 723, 83 S.Ct. 1417, 10 L.Ed.2d 663 (1963)).
The specific provision of Louisiana law providing
for a change of venue is found in La.Code Crim.Proc. art. 622:
A change of venue shall be granted when the
applicant proves that by reason of prejudice existing in the public
mind or because of undue influence, or that for any other reason, a
fair and impartial trial cannot be obtained in the parish where the
prosecution is pending.
In deciding whether to grant a change of venue the
court shall consider whether the prejudice, the influence, or the
other reasons are such that they will affect the answers of jurors on
the voir dire examination or the testimony of witnesses at the trial.
This article was adopted as part of the Code of
Criminal Procedure in 1966. It changed the test used previously in
Louisiana to determine whether a change of venue was necessary. The
former rules had been concisely stated in State v. Scott, 237 La. 71,
85, 110 So.2d 530, 535 (1959) (citations omitted):
The burden of establishing that an applicant cannot
obtain a fair trial in the parish where the crime was committed rests
with him. The test is whether there can be secured with reasonable
certainty from the citizens of the parish a jury whose members will be
able to try the case on the law and evidence, uninfluenced by what
they may have heard of the matter and who will give the accused full
benefit of any reasonable doubt arising either from the evidence or
the lack of it. The power to grant a change of venue rests in the
sound discretion of the trial judge, whose ruling will not be
disturbed in the absence of a showing of clear abuse thereof.
However, the legislature found this judicial
interpretation deficient in that it confused the separate and distinct
grounds for challenging objectionable jurors for cause and for change
of venue. Bell, 315 So.2d at 309. Thus, when Article 622 was
enacted, the legislative intent regarding the separate nature of the
two tests for challenging jurors and changing venue was expressed in
the Official Revision Comment, which stated that the former “test for
change of venue, as interpreted by the jurisprudence, is much weaker
than was intended by the express language used in [the former
statutory provision].” Quoted in Bell, 315 So.2d at 310. The
Comment went on to explain that under Scott, the test for change of
venue was “nothing more than valid grounds for challenges for cause.”
Id. The legislature, therefore, found that:
These [sic] leads to the conclusion that if the
defendant cannot successfully challenge for cause he has no grounds
for a change of venue; and furthermore, that if he does challenge for
cause and the objectionable jurors are thus removed he has no grounds
for change of venue. Logically, therefore, change of venue did not
exist as a concept separate from challenge for cause․
The foregoing suggests that the emasculated change
of venue test as announced by the supreme court has no value. It is
thus clear that the change of venue concept must be one which
overrides the challenge for cause concept and is to be superimposed
upon the entire proceeding. A change of venue ought to be available
even though, individually, each juror is not susceptible to a valid
challenge for cause, if the defendant can show that overriding all of
these things and superimposed upon all of them he still cannot get a
fair trial. The change of venue concept should operate where the
state of the public mind against the defendant is such that jurors
will not completely answer honestly upon their voir dire, or witnesses
will be so affected by the public atmosphere that they will not
testify freely and frankly.
It is the purpose of the second paragraph of this
article to effect such a policy and to overcome the jurisprudence in
the cases cited above.
Id. (citations omitted).
After considering the Revision Comment and the
language of Article 622, this court in Bell enumerated several
relevant factors that would help guide the judiciary in determinations
of whether to change venue under the new provision. Those factors
are: (1) the nature of pretrial publicity and the particular degree
to which it has circulated in the community, (2) the connection of
government officials with the release of the publicity, (3) the length
of time between the dissemination of the publicity and the trial, (4)
the severity and notoriety of the offense, (5) the area from which the
jury is to be drawn, (6) other events occurring in the community which
either affect or reflect the attitude of the community or individual
jurors toward the defendant, and (7) any factors likely to affect the
candor and veracity of the prospective jurors on voir dire. Bell, 315
So.2d at 311.
The court instructed that under the new provision,
it was no longer appropriate for a trial court to only inquire as to
whether the individual prospective jurors could be fair and impartial
and uninfluenced by what they had heard or had seen outside the court.
Bell, 315 So.2d at 313. The focus must extend beyond the prejudices
and attitudes of the individual venire persons, and the defendant must
be allowed to show that, even if it would be possible to select a jury
whose members were not subject to a challenge for cause, that there
exists prejudice or influences within the community at large that
would affect the jurors' answers during voir dire or the testimony of
witnesses at the trial, or that for any other reason, a fair and
impartial trial could not be held in the parish. Id. The trial
court's ultimate determination must be of the community's attitude
toward the defendant. Id.
Shortly after the Bell decision, the court
addressed the issue again in State v. Rudolph, 332 So.2d 806, 809
(La.1976), where it reiterated that, “under the test set forth in
article 622 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the fact that a jury
can be selected, i.e., that the requisite number of jurors are not
subject to a valid challenge for cause, does not mandate the
conclusion that a motion for change of venue was properly denied by
the trial court.” The court further explained that a change of venue
may be necessary to ensure a fair trial even if, individually, each
juror is not susceptible to a valid challenge for cause, because the
overriding state of the public mind against the defendant may cause
the jurors not to answer completely honestly during voir dire. Id.
While the legislature may have changed the test
previously used in this state to determine whether venue should be
changed under Article 622, the Bell court noted that the burden of
proof on the defendant to show actual prejudice and the discretion
accorded the trial court were not changed. Bell, 315 So.2d at 309-10.
The burden of proof remains on the defendant to show that there
exists such prejudice in the collective mind of the community that a
fair trial is impossible.7
State v. Vaccaro, 411 So.2d 415, 424 (La.1982) (citing State v.
Adams, 394 So.2d 1204 (La.1981); State v. Williams, 385 So.2d 214
(La.1980); State v. Felde, 382 So.2d 1384 (La.1980); State v.
Sonnier, 379 So.2d 1336 (La.1979), on rehearing 379 So.2d 1368
(La.1980)). Whether the defendant has made the requisite showing is
a question addressed to the trial court's sound discretion which will
not be disturbed on review in the absence of an affirmative showing of
error and abuse of discretion. Id.
Both this court and the United States Supreme Court
have instructed that the defendant cannot meet his burden merely by
showing that there exists public knowledge of the facts surrounding
the offense or the alleged offender. Dobbert v. Florida, 432 U.S.
282, 303, 97 S.Ct. 2290, 2303, 53 L.Ed.2d 344 (1977); Irvin v. Dowd,
366 U.S. 717, 722-23, 81 S.Ct. 1639, 1642-43, 6 L.Ed.2d 751 (1961);
State v. Hart, 96-0697, p. 6 (La.3/7/97), 691 So.2d 651, 655; State
v.Comeaux, 514 So.2d 84, 90 (La.1987). As the Supreme Court noted in
1961, “[i]n these days of swift, widespread and diverse methods of
communication, an important case can be expected to arouse the
interest of the public in the vicinity․” Irvin, 366 U.S. at 722, 81
S.Ct. at 1642. Therefore, the defendant must prove more than mere
public knowledge or familiarity with the facts of the case to be
entitled to have his trial moved to another parish; rather, the
defendant must show the extent of prejudice in the minds of the
community as a result of such knowledge or exposure to the case before
trial. State v. Wessinger, 98-1234, p. 7 (La.5/28/99), 736 So.2d
162, 172; State v. Connolly, 96-1680, p. 5 (La.7/1/97), 700 So.2d
We have recognized, though, the inherent difficulty
of presenting direct evidence of community-wide prejudice against a
defendant and acknowledged that positive proof of such prejudice is
not always available. Rudolph, 332 So.2d at 809. Therefore, on
review of a denial of change of venue, this court and the United
States Supreme Court primarily inquire as to the scope and nature of
publicity to which prospective jurors in a community have been exposed
and examine the lengths to which a court must go to impanel a jury
that appears to be impartial, in order to ascertain whether prejudice
existed in the mind of the public which prevented the defendant from
receiving a fair trial. See, e.g., Murphy v. Florida, 421 U.S. 794,
802-03, 95 S.Ct. 2031, 2037, 44 L.Ed.2d 589 (1975), State v. Hoffman,
98-3118 (La.4/11/00), 768 So.2d 542.
The seven factors enumerated by this court in Bell
facilitate a court's inquiry into the nature and scope of publicity
disseminated in the community where a crime occurred. This court in
State v. David also distinguished extensive media coverage that is
primarily factual in nature from that which is attended by
inflammatory factors, such as racial strife, murder of a law
enforcement officer, or an egregious event such as a televised
confession. 425 So.2d at 1247. The United States Supreme Court has
also cautioned that courts must distinguish largely factual publicity
from that which is invidious or inflammatory, as they present real
differences in the potential for prejudice. Murphy, 421 U.S. at 800,
95 S.Ct. at 2036, n. 4.
Additionally, this court and the United States
Supreme Court have often examined the number of jurors excused for
cause for having fixed an opinion as another gauge of whether
prejudice exists in the public mind. Murphy, 421 U.S. at 803, 95
S.Ct. at 2037-38; State v. Wessinger, 98-1234, p. 7 (La.5/28/99), 736
So.2d 162, 173. The Supreme Court reasoned that in a community where
the majority of prospective jurors will openly admit to a
disqualifying prejudice, the reliability of other jurors' assurances
that they are impartial and have no preconceived notion may be drawn
into question. Murphy, 421 U.S. at 803, 95 S.Ct. at 2037. The Court
went on to reason that this is because it is more likely that those
jurors who claim impartiality are part of a community hostile towards
the defendant and therefore they may have been influenced by the
community feeling, even if unwittingly. Id. Yet, the Court also
“To hold that the mere existence of any
preconceived notion as to the guilt or innocence of an accused,
without more, is sufficient to rebut the presumption of a prospective
juror's impartiality would be to establish an impossible standard.
It is sufficient if the juror can lay aside his impression or opinion
and render a verdict based on the evidence presented in court.”
Id. at 800, 95 S.Ct. at 2036 (quoting Irvin, 366
U.S. at 723, 81 S.Ct. at 1642).
As these cases demonstrate, there is not a bright
line test for determining the degree of prejudice existing in the
collective mind of the community. There is no established minimum
level of exposure to negative publicity or percentage of challenged
jurors that illustrates a corruptive atmosphere mandating venue
transfer. Hoffman, 768 So.2d at 555; Wessinger, 736 So.2d at 173.
Therefore, this court has advised analyzing the question of whether a
change of venue was required due to the number of prospective jurors
whose ability to be impartial had been corrupted by publicity by
comparison to other cases.8
Wessinger, 736 So.2d at 173.
In the present case, the court's inquiry as to
whether a change of venue was necessary due to the alleged prejudice
existing in the collective mind of the community is limited to a
review of voir dire of the prospective jurors as the defendant never
presented any evidence as to the scope and nature of the allegedly
prejudicial pre-trial publicity.9
Although the record reveals that a great majority of the venire had
been exposed to some kind of publicity surrounding the case (110 out
of 113), no direct evidence was admitted to demonstrate the
prejudicial or inflammatory nature of the publicity to the court.
When specifically asked whether the publicity they had seen was
positive or negative, many of the jurors responded it was negative;
yet, neither the court nor counsel inquired as to what the jurors
meant by “negative”. Further, when a couple of jurors were
questioned more closely on the issue, several stated that the
publicity had been mainly factual in nature and that the media had
simply reported the facts surrounding the crime, the arrests, and the
outcome of the co-defendant's trial.
As previously discussed, nearly every potential
juror had been exposed to some publicity surrounding this case, with
approximately 89% of them having been exposed to information on more
than one occasion or in multiple sources. Approximately 40 of the
113 jurors questioned 10
(35%) admitted having developed negative feelings or opinions about
the defendant at some point preceding her trial due to all of the
publicity surrounding the case and her co-defendant's conviction.
Seventy-seven people were excused for cause. Approximately 17 out of
those 77 were excused because they expressed an inability to put aside
a pre-conceived disposition or outside information and be impartial
toward the defendant. An additional 19 of the prospective jurors who
were excused in part because they opposed the death penalty also
indicated that they had pre-formed opinions regarding the case which
would prevent them from being impartial.
While these numbers are significant, it is
important to note that nearly all of the potential jurors who
expressed that they had formed any pre-conceived opinions about the
defendant were excused either for cause or upon challenge by defense
counsel. Further, the majority of those prospective jurors who
stated they had developed a negative feeling or opinion from the
publicity to which they were exposed, expressed to the court that they
would be able to put those feelings aside and fairly evaluate whatever
evidence was presented at trial.
Out of those selected to serve on the jury, only
one person, Juror Bartley, had expressed having had an initial
negative opinion regarding the defendant's guilt due to the publicity
immediately following the occurrence of the crime. Ms. Bartley,
however, stated before the court that she no longer held that opinion
and would be able to fairly evaluate the evidence in order to
determine if the state had proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
While the record demonstrates that there was
extensive knowledge within the community about the case in general,
the defendant has failed to present sufficient evidence of an
overriding prejudice within the community's collective mind that
prevented her from receiving a fair trial. Most jurors responded
that they were aware of the case, that the publicity they recalled was
negative, but that they would be able to put aside that information
and act impartially as a juror. Those jurors who expressed a
pre-conceived negative opinion concerning the defendant's role in the
crime that could not be put aside were excused for cause. Those
prospective jurors only made up approximately 20% to 25% of the total
These percentages are not so high or outrageous as to justify any
presumption of community-wide prejudice. Additionally, as discussed
earlier, there was no direct evidence before the court as to the
allegedly inflammatory nature of the pre-trial publicity. In
conclusion, we do not find that this is a case in which the trial
judge abused his discretion in denying a change of venue.
Challenges for Cause
In assignments of error numbers eleven and twelve,
the defendant argues that the trial court erred by denying the defense
challenges for cause as to potential jurors McDermott and Kutcher.
Defendant argues that trial court abused its discretion in not
excusing Mr. McDermott, an attorney, because, during voir dire, he
stated that, while he had formed some negative opinions from the
information he had read in the newspaper, he was “trained” to put
aside such prejudice and focus on the evidence. As to Ms. Kutcher,
the defendant points to her statements that she had negative feelings
against the defendant because of publicity surrounding the case.
The trial court is vested with broad discretion in
ruling on challenges for cause, and its ruling will be reversed only
when a review of the entire voir dire reveals the judge abused his
discretion. State v. Robertson, 92-2660, p. 4 (La.1/14/94), 630 So.2d
1278, 1281; State v. Cross, 93-1189, p. 7 (La.6/30/95), 658 So.2d
683, 686. When a potential juror forms an opinion of the defendant's
guilt that is derived from news publicity, the trial court should
grant the defendant's challenge for cause of the prospective juror
unless the “ ‘juror declares, and the court is satisfied, that he can
render an impartial verdict according to the law and the evidence.’ ”
State v. Smith, 491 So.2d 641, 646 (La.1986) (quoting La.Code
Crim.Proc. art. 797(2)).
A trial court's refusal to excuse a prospective
juror for cause is not an abuse of discretion, even when the juror has
expressed an opinion seemingly prejudicial to the defendant, if the
juror, upon further inquiry or instruction, demonstrates that he or
she is willing and able to decide the case impartially and according
to the law. Robertson, 630 So.2d at 1281; Cross, 658 So.2d at 687;
State v. Copeland, 530 So.2d 526, 534 (La.1988). A juror need not
be totally ignorant of the facts involved with the case. State v.
Harper, 430 So.2d 627, 636 (La.1983). If a juror who has acquired
knowledge about the case through the media can sufficiently lay aside
his or her impression of the defendant's guilt or innocence and render
a verdict based on the evidence presented, he or she is competent to
serve as a juror. Id.
Both potential jurors challenged in the defendant's
assignments of error consistently affirmed their ability to put aside
any negative impressions or opinions they had formed as a result of
the publicity and decide the case fairly and impartially. Regarding
potential juror McDermott, the defendant argues that the trial judge
erred in not excusing Mr. McDermott because during defense questioning
it emerged that he had been exposed to publicity about the case from
reading the newspaper and had formed a negative opinion as a result.
However, Mr. McDermott also stated that, “while I may have an opinion
of this moment, I would base my decision on the evidence presented.”
He also stated that “I do not have an opinion that would bias me in
the performance of my duty as a juror.” The record further reveals
Mr. McDermott's ability to serve as an impartial juror:
COURT: And, you mentioned that you had an opinion
about it?---from all that reading---at on point. And, I think it is
a proper question of whether or not it was a negative opinion or not
JUROR: Upon reading the newspaper, I have a
COURT: Okay. Can you put that opinion aside at
this time and view the evidence and make you decision solely on the
Accordingly, it does not appear that the judge
erred in denying the challenge for cause.
With respect to potential juror Ms. Kutcher,
defendant points to the following exchange:
DEFENSE: Have you heard about this on the news?
DEFENSE: Have you seen anything positive about Ms.
Frank on the television?
DEFENSE: And, have you had conversations with
either friends or associates or family members about this case?
DEFENSE: And, were all of those conversations
negative in reference to Ms. Frank?
JUROR: I'm sure they were, pretty much.
DEFENSE: Okay. I want to ask you, can you remember
hearing anything positive about Ms. Frank as a result of what you have
seen from the reports and the discussions with those people?
DEFENSE: And, do you come here today with no
opinion as to her guilt or innocence?
JUROR: I wouldn't say that I don't have an
opinion, but I will say that I would have to listen to the evidence
presented here to make any decision as to that.
DEFENSE: But, you have negative feelings, and
those negative feelings stem directly from what you have heard about
However, defense counsel fails to cite to the
state's questioning of Ms. Kutcher in which she answered that she
could put the publicity out of her mind and listen to the evidence
presented in the courtroom. Ms. Kutcher additionally stated:
I have negative feelings, but what I think and what
the facts are as presented in Court, you know what happens here as far
as the evidence goes, I know the rules are that she [defendant]
doesn't have to do anything. It is his [prosecutor's] job to prove
it ․ And, I don't think that what I think would be biased at all with
what I heard about before this. I would make a rational decision.
Thus, the trial judge did not err in denying the
challenge for cause. Ms. Kutcher, although expressing some
reservations initially, stated that she could be fair and decide the
case solely on the evidence presented in the courtroom.
Both Mr. McDermott and Ms. Kutcher initially
expressed that they had developed some negative opinions about the
defendant. However, both also demonstrated that they could be fair
and decide the case solely on the evidence presented in the courtroom.
Therefore, these assignments of error lack merit.
In this assignment of error, the defendant claims
that her right to a full and fair review on direct appeal has been
violated because the record is incomplete.
Article I, § 19 of the Louisiana Constitution
guarantees defendants a right of appeal “based upon a complete record
of all the evidence upon which the judgment is based.” Material
omissions from the transcript of the proceedings at trial bearing on
the merits of an appeal will require reversal. See State v.
Robinson, 387 So.2d 1143 (La.1980) (reversal required when record
failed to contain the testimony of a state and defense expert
witness); State v. Ford, 338 So.2d 107 (La.1976) (reversal required
when record was missing the testimony of four state witnesses and the
voir dire of prospective jurors). On the other hand, inconsequential
omissions or slight inaccuracies do not require reversal. See State
v. Goodbier, 367 So.2d 356, 357 (La.1979) (reversal not required when
record does not include a transcript of the voir dire examination and
affidavit of court reporter indicated that counsel made no objections
during voir dire). Finally, a defendant is not entitled to relief
because of an incomplete record absent a showing of prejudice based on
the missing portions of the transcripts. State v. Castleberry,
98-1388, p. 29 (La.4/13/99), 758 So.2d 749, 773 (citing State v.
Hawkins, 96-0766 (La.1/14/97), 688 So.2d 473).
As an initial matter, we recognize that the court
itself has had its doubts about the completeness of the record in this
case at times. However, as discussed earlier, only one transcript of
a proceeding that took place on September 1, 1995, was found to be
missing and to contain material information regarding the defendant's
argument on indigency. See n. 2. Because the court obtained that
transcript and, in part, based its determination that the defendant
was in fact indigent on the information contained in that transcript,
the defendant can hardly claim she was prejudiced by its initial
absence from the record.
Further, regarding the indigency issue, defense
counsel points out in this assignment of error that there is no
transcript of a hearing held after the defendant's trial where the
trial judge apparently found that the defendant was indigent for
purposes of her appeal. The only reference in the record to this
hearing is the trial judge's statement on March 15, 1996, that, “we
had a full hearing as to whether or not Antoinette Frank or her mother
had any funds․ I questioned the mother under oath.” We agree that it
would have been helpful to have had a transcript of that hearing.
However, the court already considered the fact that the defendant was
later found indigent without any apparent change in circumstances and
held that the judge abused his discretion in not earlier declaring her
to be indigent. Therefore, again, the defendant was not prejudiced
by this omission from the record.
The other dates of which defense counsel complains
of the lack of transcription include many days during which no
testimony was taken and no argument was heard by the trial court. On
none of the days complained of, other than the post-trial hearing
discussed above, did any proceeding material to the defendant's
appeal take place. Therefore, those omissions do not constitute
The defendant's conviction is affirmed. However,
the case is remanded to the trial court in order for it to hold an
evidentiary hearing as to whether the defendant was entitled under
Touchet to state-funded expert assistance for the sentencing phase of
her trial. If the court determines she was so entitled, it is to
vacate the defendant's sentence and order a new penalty phase at which
the defendant will have the benefit of that expert assistance. If
the trial court finds that the defendant can not make the proper
showing of need for state funds, the defendant may appeal that
decision to this court along with the other assignments of error
regarding the penalty phase of her trial.
assignments of error not discussed in this opinion do not constitute
reversible error and are governed by well-settled principles of law.
Those assignments are reviewed in an unpublished appendix that will
comprise a part of the official record in this case.
the court's initial review of the transcript of the August 29, 1995,
hearing, it was the court's belief that the defendant had moved for
and had been denied indigent status at some earlier hearing, although
there was no transcript of any other hearing on the matter. This
belief was based on transcribed statements made by the court and
defense counsel at that hearing referring to a previous motion and on
the fact that the defendant had filed a writ application with this
court in July, 1995, seeking review of the trial court's refusal to
find her indigent. This court therefore entered an order on November
13, 2000, that the trial court confirm that there was such a hearing
and, if there had been one, provide this court with a supplemental
transcript of that earlier proceeding. The trial court responded on
November 27, 2000, that there had been no other hearing on the
defendant's indigent status prior to August 29, 1995.Additionally,
when the trial court submitted its per curium on November 27, 2000, it
also provided this court for the first time with a partial transcript
from a hearing on September 1, 1995, at which the defendant's indigent
status was again discussed. This court subsequently obtained a full
transcript of that proceeding on November 29, 2000. This is only one
example of the abysmal condition of the record in this case when it
was turned over to this court for review and to what lengths the court
has had to go to obtain all transcripts relevant to this proceeding.
Despite the court's diligent efforts from the beginning to obtain a
full record, it discovered at the late date of November 27, 2000, that
a transcript of an important proceeding was still missing.The trouble
the court has faced in obtaining the whole record in this case
unnecessarily delayed its ability to thoroughly and expeditiously
review the case. However, we do not anticipate facing this problem
again, as the Rules of the Supreme Court were recently amended to
provide that in all capital cases, “[t]he district judge in the court
in which the case was tried ․ shall certify that the record conforms
to the requirement of this section [that the record contain complete
transcripts of all proceedings] before it is lodged in this Court.”
La. Rules of Court (A)(I)(6)(e) (emphasis added).
following day, the court also ruled that the defendant would have to
pay for all transcripts and photographs after having investigated the
defendant's retirement funds. The Court stated:Mr. Jenkins, I have
determined that there is some three-thousand dollars plus that is in
the retirement fund for Ms. Antoinette Frank. Those monies should be
secured and they are to pay for transcripts, the transcript today and
the transcript that was done over the weekend. Those monies---I have
asked Mr. Hand who is a member of that Board to explain the way that
that money is to go directly to these Court Reporters for the numbers
of transcripts that they have had to do at your request. So there
will be no free transcripts.
4. At the
August 29, 1995, hearing on the defendant's indigent status, defense
counsel also verbally asked the court to consider the defendant
indigent so she could hire a crime scene expert. On September 1,
1995, the district attorney stated for the record that it was his
understanding that the defendant was seeking state funds in part for a
blood spatter expert. However, the defendant's application to the
trial court for an ex parte hearing on her motion for funds for expert
assistance did not include a request for a crime scene expert. Her
application specifically requested funds for a
psychiatrist/psychologist for trial and sentencing and a mitigation
expert for the penalty phase only. Further, on appeal, the
defendant's argument focuses on the denial of funds for psychiatric
and mitigation expert assistance during the penalty phase of the
trial. There was no argument raised as to the defendant's need for a
crime scene expert or that the defendant was prejudiced by the lack of
one at trial.
response to the defendant's request for state-funded psychiatric
expert assistance, the state has made much of the fact that the
defendant refused to be examined pre-trial by a lunacy commission.
However, we do not agree with the state's position that the
defendant's refusal to cooperate with a court-appointed psychiatrist
for the purpose of determining whether she was competent to stand
trial, when she testified for the record that she believed she was
competent, means that she would not cooperate with any other
evaluation for purposes of presenting mitigating evidence.
the United States Supreme Court has not specifically answered the
question of what constitutional standard of review applies to a trial
court's denial of state funds for expert assistance in an indigent's
defense, many of the federal circuit courts apply a harmless error
standard. See, e.g., Tyson v. Keane, 159 F.3d 732 (2nd Cir.1998),
cert. denied, 526 U.S. 1027, 119 S.Ct. 1270, 143 L.Ed.2d 365 (1999);
Tuggle v. Netherland, 79 F.3d 1386, 1392-93 (4th Cir.1996), cert.
denied, 519 U.S. 894, 117 S.Ct. 237, 136 L.Ed.2d 166 (1996); Brewer
v. Reynolds, 51 F.3d 1519, 1529 (10th Cir.1995), cert. denied, 516
U.S. 1123, 116 S.Ct. 936, 133 L.Ed.2d 862 (1996); Starr v. Lockhart,
23 F.3d 1280, 1291-92 (8th Cir.1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 995, 115
S.Ct. 499, 130 L.Ed.2d 409 (1994),.
courts also recognize that in unusual circumstances prejudice against
the defendant may be presumed. State v. Brumfield, 96-2667
(La.10/20/98); 737 So.2d 660, 677; State v. David, 425 So.2d 1241,
1246 (La.1983). This exception to the general rule that the
defendant must prove actual prejudice evolved from a series of United
States Supreme Court cases in which the Court found that the defendant
was denied due process regardless of whether he had demonstrated
“isolatable prejudice”. In those cases, the Court held that the
pervasive and inflammatory nature of publicity to which the community
had been exposed and/or the procedure employed by the state involved
such a high probability that the accused would be prejudiced, that the
whole procedure had to be deemed lacking in due process. See, e.g.,
Rideau v.Louisiana, 373 U.S. 723, 83 S.Ct. 1417, 10 L.Ed.2d 663 (1963)
(holding that it was a denial of due process to refuse the request for
a change of venue after the people of the parish had been exposed
repeatedly and in depth to the spectacle of the petitioner personally
confessing in detail to the crimes for which he was later tried);
Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333, 86 S.Ct. 1507, 16 L.Ed.2d 600
(1966) (finding denial of due process because of the “virulent and
incriminating publicity” about the defendant, the notorious nature of
the case, the televised interview of the defendant, and the “carnival
atmosphere” of the trial, at which “bedlam reigned” due to the trial
judge's unprecedented allowance of the press to have free reign over
the courtroom).Relying on Supreme Court precedents, this court
articulated the extraordinary standard for presuming prejudice in
State v. David, where it stated that:Although extensive knowledge in
the community of either the crimes or the putative criminal and his
prior crimes is not in itself sufficient to render a trial
constitutionally unfair, unfairness of a constitutional magnitude will
be presumed in the presence of a trial atmosphere which is utterly
corrupted by press coverage or which is entirely lacking in the
solemnity and sobriety to which a defendant is entitled in a system
that subscribes to any notion of fairness and rejects the verdict of
the mob.425 So.2d at 1246 (citing Murphy v. Florida, 421 U.S. 794, 95
S.Ct. 2031, 44 L.Ed.2d 589 (1975); Dobbert v. Florida, 432 U.S. 282,
97 S.Ct. 2290, 53 L.Ed.2d 344 (1977); Rideau v. Louisiana, supra;
Estes v. Texas, 381 U.S. 532, 85 S.Ct. 1628, 14 L.Ed.2d 543 (1965);
Sheppard v. Maxwell, supra ).
examples of other cases relying on this method of analyzing the
question of possible community prejudice, see State v. Connolly,
96-1680, p. 5 (La.7/1/97), 700 So.2d 810, 815 (although 86.33%, 120
out of 139, potential jurors possessed some knowledge about the crime,
most had only a vague recollection of the surrounding facts); State
v. Wilson, 467 So.2d 503, 513 (La.1985) (“Although a majority of
prospective jurors (i.e., 24 of 39) admitted exposure to pretrial
publicity, only four were excused for cause on ground of their
formation of a fixed opinion․ A review of the responses by potential
jurors on voir dire does not reveal the existence of collective
community prejudice which could have denied defendant a fair trial
before impartial jurors.”); State v. Clark, 442 So.2d 1129, 1133
(La.1983) (motion for change of venue granted based on dry run voir
dire in which 37 of 38 jurors recalled details of crime and only six
out of 24 jurors in the last two groups questioned indicated that
their knowledge would not affect their decision); State v. David, 425
So.2d at 1247 (out of 112 jurors, 27 had read or heard about the case,
but only six of those 27 had an opinion, and all four of those jurors
who said that they could not put their opinion aside were excused for
cause); State v. Rodrigue, 409 So.2d 556, 559 (La.1982) (in a mock
voir dire set up in order to determine the impact of media coverage by
the court, 26 of 30 prospective jurors had read about the case, but
only nine had fixed an opinion which satisfied the court that a jury
could be chosen in that parish).
9. In many
of the cases that have been before this court on review of the same
issue, the defendant entered into evidence video tapes of news
broadcasts, logs of when reports were televised, and copies of the
various newspaper articles reporting on the crime, which enabled the
court to make a more informed inquiry as to possible prejudice.
Nothing of that nature was presented to the court in this case.
113 people of the original 125 person venire were questioned because a
12 person jury and 2 alternates were selected before the last panel of
potential jurors was questioned.
numbers reflect that 17 out of 113 jurors were excused solely because
they had a preconceived notion regarding the defendant's guilt. An
additional 19 people who were excused for opposing the imposition of
the death penalty also admitted having developed a negative opinion of
the defendant as well.
also note that the defendant filed two motions with this court on
December 1, 2000, requesting supplementation of the record with
transcripts of certain proceedings at which the defendant's indigent
status was discussed and a request to file a supplemental brief
regarding the indigency issue after receiving those supplemental
transcripts. These motions were filed as a result of this court's
order to the trial court to provide a transcript of any hearing on
indigent status that took place before August 29, 1995, and the trial
court's response in a per curiam to which it attached a page from a
transcript that had not previously been provided to this court. See
note 2. However, as discussed above, the court has fully considered
those missing transcripts and has ruled in the defendant's favor on
the indigency question. Therefore, the motions for supplementation
of the record and a supplemental brief are rendered moot by our