After nearly two-year hiatus, New Orleans starts criminal jury trials again; more than 200 murder suspects held

Published 9:31 pm Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Jury trials resumed Monday in New Orleans, where they have been suspended for most of the past two years.

But the process is slow. More than 12 trials were scheduled Monday, but several were rescheduled and only two had begun choosing juries, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported.

Louisiana’s Supreme Court halted jury trials statewide from March 2020 until April 2021 because of the pandemic, giving local courts the choice of whether to continue moratoriums after that.

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Orleans Parish resumed jury trials in October 2021 but stopped them again in January because the highly transmissible omicron variant was surging, the newspaper noted.

Even after Hurricane Katrina, which flooded 80% of the city, jury trials weren’t “shut down for two years, so this is unprecedented,” Rafael Goyeneche, president of the nonprofit Metropolitan Crime Commission, told WWL-TV.

He said 950 to 1,000 people are being held for trial.

“As of last week, there were 205 people waiting to be tried just on homicide charges,” Goyeneche said.

Danette Thierry was among people reporting for jury duty Monday.

“When called upon just do what we have to do,” she told WDSU-TV. “I’m a social studies teacher, so this is a teachable moment for when I do get back to work with my students.”

Orleans Parish Criminal District Court sent 1,000 jury summons, but more than 600 people never responded and 47 summons could not be delivered, Chief Judge Robin Pittman told the newspaper.

The court said 150 jurors were told to report for duty and 132 did so, wearing masks and sitting in every other seat in the basement jury lounge as precautions against COVID-19.

Crime commission data showed three jury trials during the three months the court was open last year, the newspaper reported.

A court filing by the district attorney’s office showed about 150 trials were scheduled this month. The newspaper noted that trials may not proceed as scheduled for a number of reasons including postponements and plea agreements.

Pittman said it’s too soon to speculate whether there will be enough jurors to accommodate the cases that do move to trial.