New trial ordered in post-Katrina deaths

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered a new trial for New Orleans police officers convicted of killing unarmed civilians in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, saying prosecutors undermined the case by posting “vitriolic” comments about the police online.

Four officers were sentenced last year to prison terms of from 38 to 65 years for opening fire and killing two unarmed people and wounding four others. A fifth police officer was sentenced to six years for trying to cover up the shootings.

The case was the most significant police misconduct prosecution since the case of Rodney King, a black motorist beaten by Los Angeles police in 1991, a senior U.S. Justice Department official said last year.

U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt ordered a new trial, saying that prosecutors had prejudiced the case by using assumed names to post online messages criticizing the New Orleans police and attorneys for the defense. The messages appeared on www.nola.com, a Web site affiliated with the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper.

The prosecutors were identified last year after people involved in an unrelated case hired private investigators, who tracked the online comments to the lawyers in the U.S. attorney’s office. Two prosecutors resigned after the disclosures.

There was no immediate comment Tuesday from the prosecutors office.

— Reuters

Ex-congressman’s assets go on block

A showy red cape drew more bids than framed autographs of Michael Jackson or Bruce Lee as a government auction of more than a dozen items forfeited by prison-bound former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. got underway Tuesday.

The online auction, which will accept bids over two weeks, is the U.S. Marshals Service’s way of trying to recoup part of the $750,000 in campaign funds the Chicago Democrat and his wife, Sandra, illegally spent — often to satisfy penchants for
attention-grabbing clothes and pop culture keepsakes. The feds are looking to rake in more than $5,000 from the auction.

Three hours after the auction began, the red cashmere cape with fur trim had drawn 34 bids, tripling the initial asking price to $905. Court documents say Jackson bought it for $1,500 from an Edwards Lowell Furs store.

A Bruce Lee autograph had just four bids, the highest of which was $350.

— Associated Press

Judge sticks by stop-and-frisk ruling: Judge Shira Scheindlin, who ordered an overhaul of the New York City police department’s stop-and-frisk strategy, has refused to delay it pending appeal. Scheindlin, who ordered changes after finding the program discriminates against minorities, said Tuesday that granting the city’s request would send the wrong signal.

Albuquerque abortion measure going to voters: A bill banning abortions in Albuquerque after 20 weeks of pregnancy will be put to voters in November and could become the first municipal abortion ban in the nation. The council in New Mexico’s largest city voted 5 to 4 late Monday to put on the ballot the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Ordinance.”

Colorado authorities, coping with the aftermath of deadly downpours, on Tuesday stepped up the search for victims left stranded in the foothills of the Rockies and evacuations of prairie towns in danger of being swamped as the flood crest moved downstream. Eight people have been confirmed dead from flash floods triggered by a week of historically heavy rains.

— From news services