An Orleans Parish judge is slated today to consider tossing the death sentence
handed to Juan Smith's 16 years ago, in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling
in January that shredded his conviction in a separate 1995 murder case.
John Simerman, The Times-PicayuneCriminal District Judge Frank Marullo will
hear arguments over whether to overturn Juan Smith's death sentence and
conviction in a 1995 triple murder on Morrison Road.
Smith, now 37, was convicted in a 1995 quintuple murder on North Roman Street
that the high court overturned, ruling that prosecutors failed to turn over a
detective's notes in which the lone eyewitness first denied getting a good look
at the shooter.
That conviction later was used to help prosecutors secure a death sentence for
Smith in a separate, triple murder in a house on Morrison Road just a few
months before the Roman Street killings.
Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro has pledged to retry Smith in
the Roman Street murder rampage. Still, Smith's attorneys will argue that the
Supreme Court's 8-1 move should negate both his death sentence in the second
trial and the conviction.
They claim that prosecutors spent 85 % of the penalty phase in that case
rehashing Smith's prior conviction; that his death sentence is cruel and
unusual punishment since it's based "in whole or in part, on an
unconstitutional and now non-existent prior conviction"; and that he was
deprived a right to testify on his own behalf because it would have opened the
door to the quintuple murder.
Cannizzaro's office, in a legal filing, argues that an appeals court in 2001
already discounted the prior conviction as a crucial factor in Smith's death
sentence, ruling that the sentence should stand. The fact prosecutors spent so
much time focusing on it, Cannizzaro's office argues, is only because it
covered other death sentence factors during the guilt phase of the trial.
The DA's office, calling Smith's attempt to reverse his death sentence "wholly
meritless," also claims Smith needed to more clearly state his desire to take
the stand in the triple murder if he wants to claim he was deprived of the
Smith is expected to appear in court on a TV feed from Angola state
penitentiary. Lawyers for Smith and for the state and Orleans Parish Sheriff
Marlin Gusman continue to argue over whether he should be moved from death row
to Orleans Parish in advance of a retrial in the Roman Street murders.
The state and Gusman claim state law requires that he remain at Angola. Smith's
attorneys say that would deprive him of his right to access to counsel.
A hearing on that issue is slated for later this month.
In overturning Smith's conviction in the quintuple murder, the high
chttp://topics.nola.com/tag/leon-cannizzaro/index.htmlourt ruled found that
prosecutors withheld a detective's notes detailing early statements from the
lone eyewitness, Larry Boatner, saying he couldn't identify anyone from the
rampage inside a house on North Roman Street.
Boatner first told police he was "too scared to look at anybody." Three months
later, he picked Smith out of a photo lineup, saying, "I'll never forget Juan's
No date has been set for the retrial.
In the triple murder, Smith was condemned to die for the killings of Tangie
Thompson, her boyfriend Andre White and Devyn Thompson, her 3-year-old child.
Tangie Thompson was the ex-wife of former Saints football player Bennie
Among the aggravating circumstances making the case eligible for the death
penalty were that the murder was committed in the act of an attempted robbery
and that one of the victims was under 12.