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Louisiana Prosecutors Have "Ties" to Murder

Lawrence Jacobs Jr. was on trial for first degree murder in Jefferson Parish Louisiana when an assistant district attorney approached him and whispered "We're going to hang you boy."

Lawrence Jacobs Sr., who was only in the courtroom to support his son, didn't hear the words but he got the same message when he looked at the prosecutor's neckties. Assistant District Attorney Cameron Mary sported a bright red tie, six inches wide, with a white hangman's noose. Another prosecutor wore a tie with the Grim Reaper embroidered on front.

"That's when it really hit me," said the elder Jacobs. "These guys are out to kill my son. And they're making light of it."

The ties were gifts from another prosecutor's wife. In a way the ties reflect the attitude of Jefferson Parish residents. While the murder rate in Jefferson Parish is low compared to New Orleans as a whole, its residents have put eleven people on death row in the last five years compared to two for New Orleans. Jefferson Parish, a suburb of New Orleans had 38 murders in 2002 compared with 258 in the city itself.

District Attorney Paul D. Connick Jr. called the neckties "totally inappropriate and unprofessional. They only wore the ties a few times," he said. But a behind the scenes investigation reveals a disturbing attitude.

Robert Burns, a retired Jefferson Parish judge, says that not long ago a prosecutor winning a death sentence would receive a plaque from his peers engraved with a hypodermic needle and the name of the condemned man. District attorneys in Baton Rouge are known to celebrate death penalty convictions with office parties replete with steak dinners and Jim Beam whiskey.

Sara Ottinger, a New Orleans defense lawyer, admits that defense attorneys also occasionally join in the death penalty humor. She says the gravity of such situations requires this type of release.

Nor is Louisiana alone in its approach to capital punishment. One Texas prosecutor has formed a "Silver Needle Society" while another sports a hangman's noose over her office door. A former attorney general for Mississippi kept a toy electric chair that buzzed on top of his desk.

Neither does it help that Jacobs Jr. is black. Jefferson Parish, which is two-thirds white, is also where former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke was elected state representative in 1987 and where he began his almost successful grassroots campaign for governor.

Connick adamantly denied charges of racism. "That's completely unwarranted," he said.

But as the elder Jacobs puts it, "I mean, who else got strung up?"

Jacobs Jr. has since won a new trial. His attorney has filed ninety-one pretrial motions. Not surprisingly, one is a "Motion to prohibit prosecutors from wearing tasteless and improper garb in the courthouse." Apparently the ties had become a noose-ance.

Source: The New York Times

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