The Investigators: Overruled, a look into some of Judge Trudy White's cases
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A local judge's decision has some questioning whether justice is being served and it's not just one case. The Investigators uncovered others where violent criminals may have gotten off easier if they went before one local judge.
"He was a funny person, a loving person. He loved to cook," said Rosalind Ford as she remembered her brother James Stockton.
Stockton will never cook another meal or have his family laugh at his jokes. That is because in July 2013, he was killed after his own brother-in-law, Derrick Bland, allegedly shot him six times.
"He stood over him and made sure that he was dead. He wanted him dead because you going to shoot a man three times & come back and shoot him three more times? You wanted him dead. You wanted him dead," said Ford.
In September 2015, a 12-person jury listened to a week-long trial and all 12 returned the same verdict: guilty of second-degree murder. But then presiding Judge Trudy White threw the Stockton family for a loop.
"It was a shock. All the jury find this man guilty of second-degree murder and then the judge comes back and says that she wants to overrule the verdict, she wants to overturn it, the judge, Judge Trudy White comes back and says she wants to overrule the verdict," said Ford.
Kiran: What was your reaction in the courtroom at that moment in the courtroom?
Ford: We all left out crying.
In court records, Judge White said because Bland, the shooter, was drunk, she overturned a unanimous jury's verdict and made it negligent homicide. The difference? 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.
"That's devastating. I mean that is cruel. I'm thinking she should be smart enough. That's why she's the judge and we're not to allow this man to kill someone, that's opening the door to a lot of people who are out here with gun violence," said Ford.
"It is rare indeed to see a judge set aside a jury's finding that a defendant had specific intent to kill. Those gr ants of those sorts of motions are so rare they're almost like lightning strikes," said Dane Ciolino, a law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans. He also practices criminal law and legal ethics.
Although the Investigators found that it might not be so rare for Judge Trudy White.
In September 2010, a mother, Alexandra Engler, was gunned down and her then nine-year-old daughter was shot multiple times as she tried to run out the front door of their home in the historic Beauregard Town neighborhood. Engler's daughter was left for dead but miraculously survived. DNA linked Aramis Jackson to evidence left at the scene.
The year before the shooting, Jackson was arrested for illegal carrying of weapons and carrying a gun in a firearm free zone. In that case, the charges were dismissed and Judge Trudy White told Jackson to perform three random acts of kindness. He is still awaiting trial on the case from Beauregard Town.
"As to sentencing, judges have a wide range of discretion," said Ciolino.
In another case, Dalvin Sewell was arrested for allegedly robbing someone at gunpoint. A jury returned a guilty verdict for first-degree robbery with a minimum three-year sentence and a maximum of 40 years. Judge Trudy White sentenced Sewell to the minimum of three years.
Also in another case, Robert Noce was arrested accused of raping a girl under the age of 13 and allegedly had been doing so since she was just four years old. He was arrested in 2012 accused of aggravated rape and had been in jail ever since.
In court, Noce pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of carnal knowledge of a juvenile. Judge Trudy White sentenced him to 10 years but suspended it all giving him credit for time already spent locked up and put him on five-years probation. The victim's boyfriend is accused of killing Noce.
"A judge's job is to impartially and competently mete out justice," said Ciolino. "If a judge, in performing her duties, willfully disregards the clear law that applies in any given situation, that would call for judicial discipline."
Because trial judges can make errors, there are two levels of appellate review: 1st Circuit Court of Appeals and the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Ford said her mother died trying to get justice for her son. Now, she is not giving up, adding she is standing up for any others who have fallen victim first to street violence and then again by the court system.
"I don't think Judge Trudy White should any longer be a judge to handle murder cases. I think we should have better judges in the chair handling murder cases and gun violence," said Ford.
When asked if she could say anything to Judge White, Ford said, "I would beg her to please, please overlook your personal feelings for this case. I think it's personal. We no longer have our brother, but Derrick will be with his kids, his family."
Chief Judge Don Johnson, who oversees judges in the 19th Judicial District Court, said they are not allowed to discuss pending cases.
"Our job is to adhere to the rules of the law and to apply those rules in a fair and impartial manner. We have all taken an oath to uphold those standards and are held accountable if we do not," said Judge Johnson.
As for the Derrick Bland case, it went before the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday. They are being asked to decide whether to keep the negligent homicide charge or overrule it and go back to second-degree murder. No word yet on when a decision might come.
The Investigators' calls to Judge White for comment were not returned.
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