Skip to comments.Louisiana Man, Jailed 44 Years, Starts 4th Trial
Posted on 01/11/2005 4:59:00 PM PST by Tarpaulin
HOUSTON (Reuters) - Wilbert Rideau, a black Louisiana man whose case put a spotlight on pre-civil rights era justice in the South, began his fourth trial this week for a killing that has kept him in jail for 44 years.
Rideau, who became a nationally known journalist and documentary filmmaker while in prison, has had his three prior convictions dismissed. The latest ruling came in 2000 when a federal court said he must be retried or released.
Now 62, Rideau, who has admitted the crime, was called the "most rehabilitated man in America" by Life Magazine in 1993, and his case continues to create controversy in Lake Charles, the western Louisiana city where the crime occurred.
At age 19, Rideau was found guilty by an all-white, all-male jury and sentenced to death for killing a female bank teller and wounding two others he had taken hostage after robbing a local bank of $14,000 in 1961.
That verdict was overturned because of civil rights and due process violations, as were two subsequent verdicts delivered in 1964 and 1970, the most recent because the state illegally excluded blacks from the grand jury that indicted Rideau.
The current case charging him with murder is now in front of its first racially mixed jury of eight whites, three blacks and a person of mixed race. That jury has been sequestered for the trial that is expected to conclude by the weekend.
If convicted, Rideau, who has been serving a life sentence, could be sentenced to time served.
Legal experts helping Rideau said it was unprecedented in America that someone would face a retrial after spending more than four decades in jail.
Advocates for Rideau say he is the victim of a racist, punitive judicial system that has singled him out for harsh treatment.
"It is political and racist considerations that have prevented him from being set free," said Ted Quant, director of the Rideau Project at Loyola University in New Orleans.
Parole boards have recommended Rideau's release four times, and prison officials have praised his writing, which often focuses on the causes of youth crime.
Other Louisiana inmates who committed similar crimes and saw death sentences commuted have been released after serving as little as 10 years and six months, but the notoriety around Rideau's case has prevented his release.
"He should be treated the same as others. If he were treated the same, he would have been set free by now," Quant said.
Although most of the witnesses from the original case have died, the judge in the latest proceeding has allowed prosecutors to read their testimony into the record.
That has prompted criticism from Rideau's lawyers that they are not adequately able to challenge the witnesses, whose testimony changed in the three previous trials.
Oh, and guess who he wrote for!
'"The Farm," a prison documentary that was nominated for an Oscar in 1999, and wrote and narrated an award-winning National Public Radio documentary.'
The "system" that has kept him in jail for 40 years is working in his case. That it isn't working in the case of other murderers, who got out after only 10 years, is not a reason to let him out.
He did admit his guilt.
He should have been hung 44 years ago. Where was his mercy for the person he killed? When the moment of truth came, he had none - no rehabilitation can wash that stain away.
if you murder someone, you just better count your blessings if you are alive!
If I was in that 4th trial as a juror, I would recommend hanging this time around just so he will quit wasting honest people/s money and time with trash like him.
It will be interesting to see the outcome of this trial. They moved the jury selection to Monroe La which is in the NE corner of the state.... Once selected they have now moved back to Lake Charles for the trial and jurors are sequestered.
The defense which includes Johnnie Cochran is hoping for a manslaughter conviction which would allow him to be released based upon time served... I assume the DA is seeking a murder conviction.
He was originally sentenced to death but was spared that fate when the US Supreme Court overturned Louisiana's death penalty in 1972. His sentence was converted to life in prison without parole.
What a waste of taxpayer dollars on this scumbag!
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