The Investigators: Appeals court reinstates overturned murder verdict

The Investigators: Appeals court reinstates overturned murder verdict
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The First Circuit Court of Appeal has reinstated a jury's murder verdict, which was previously overturned by 19th Judicial District Judge Trudy White.

The decision came down Wednesday to uphold the jury's second-degree murder conviction against Derrick Bland.

"Judge Trudy White was just about to let a guy who committed murder a free man," said Rosalind Ford.

Ford is the sister of James Stockton, who was shot and killed in July 2013. Bland is accused of shooting Stockton six times. Three of the shots were from a distances, and then three more times standing right over him.

In September 2015, a 12-person jury listened to a week-long trial and all 12 jurors returned the same verdict: guilty of second-degree murder. However, White, the presiding judge, overruled the verdict and changed it to negligent homicide.

Second-degree murder requires a person to spend the rest of their life in jail, while negligent homicide only has a maximum of five years behind bars.

"She failed at her work as being a judge," Ford said.

The appeals court issued its ruling, saying "we reverse the trial court's ruling granting the motion for post-verdict judgment of acquittal, reinstate the jury's verdict finding defendant guilty of second-degree murder."

"I dropped the phone. I literally dropped the phone and started hollering. I'm just excited. Tears started coming out from everywhere," said Ford about when she received the call about the ruling.

White said Bland was drunk and that the state did not prove that he had specific intent to kill Stockton. That was why she came up with her own verdict, but the ruling Wednesday said East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore did his job.

"This appellate court found that the state proved their case and proved specific intent," Moore said.

One witness testified that her in-laws "provided about $300 worth of alcohol, including both liquor and beer, for the party. She estimated that defendant drank over a fifth of alcohol and a six-pack of beer by himself. Witness testified that she had seen defendant drink alcohol before, but she had never seen him behave the way he did on the day of the party."

"It's extremely rare for a court to take a verdict away from a jury, particularly in criminal cases, I've seen it maybe in some civil cases, but particularly with jury verdicts in criminal cases, extremely rare. Maybe a handful of cases in the 40 years that I've heard of," Moore said.

Stockton's sister said her brother finally has justice and her mother is rejoicing in heaven, but more than that, Ford explains her emotions as "the appeal court slapped Judge Trudy White in the face like we had a slap in the face when she overturned the verdict."

The three judges with the appeal court had some very harsh words for White, saying "We find the trial court's ruling to be clear legal error." They added that White or "the trial court did not view the evidence in the light most favorable to the state; rather, it substituted its own appreciation of the evidence for that of the jury."

"Judge because you're a judge, doesn't mean you're always right. As being a judge, you should be able to take away your personal feelings," Ford said.

One of the three appeal court judges went even further writing his own response, saying the "judge's decision in this case was an injustice to the victim, to the citizens of the state of Louisiana, and to our criminal justice system." The judge added that "to ignore the facts does not change the facts," and that the "judge's interpretation of the statute makes this case even more egregious."

Kiran: If you could say anything to Judge Trudy White now, what do you say? 
Ford: It's sad that this case had to go to an appeal court because of your misjudgment of the case of a murder trial.

Ford said she cannot thank the appeal court judges enough for the reversal. However, for anyone else going before judge white, Ford begged them "to have someone to overlook at everything she's doing."

The Investigators reached out to White for a response, but have not heard back at the time of this report.

Bland will now go back to court for a new sentencing hearing. A date has yet to be scheduled.

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