Trials & Litigation

Murder trial takes detour after defense lawyers meet at jail with witnesses against their client

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A Louisiana murder trial took an unexpected detour on Thursday when a prosecutor accused three defense attorneys of improperly meeting the previous day with two co-defendants who are witnesses against their client, Donovan Carter, and are represented by other lawyers.

In addition to presenting an ethical issue, the unauthorized meeting—which was confirmed by a security camera—could be considered an effort to interfere with the witnesses in the Orleans Parish case, said prosecutor Laura Rodrigue. One of the witnesses, Tavoris Smith, testified when called back to the stand Thursday that defense lawyer John Fuller kept pressing him about whether he had been offered a plea deal for his earlier testimony against Carter, even when Smith asked to speak to his own attorney, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Fuller said no intimidation had occurred. “But there’s going to be ethical issues all throughout this whole trial,” he said, adding: “It’s illegal for any witness who has a deal to lie and tell a jury he doesn’t. And if district attorneys at this table allow witnesses to knowingly lie, that would be a problem too, wouldn’t it?”

Attorney Blake Arcuri, who is in charge of legal matters for the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, said the request by Carter’s lawyers for sheriff’s deputies to bring Carter and the two witnesses to see Carter’s lawyers violated procedures that had been in place to keep Carter and witnesses against him separated from each other, the newspaper reports.

“We’re going to look at how that happened,” Arcuri said of the contact between the co-defendants, although the sheriff’s office generally relies on lawyers to ask to see the correct client.

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