A death row inmate is suing the U.S. Justice Department with the hope of acquiring documents that he claims will help prove his innocence in a shooting that left a police officer and two others dead in 1995 in New Orleans.
Lawyers for the inmate, Rogers Lacaze, contend in the lawsuit the federal government has background information about the actual accomplice in the shooting. The Justice Department, according to the suit in Washington federal district court, will neither confirm nor deny the existence of any FBI records.
A team from the law firm Miller & Chevalier, on behalf of the lawyer who represents Lacaze, filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act on November 8. The complaint alleges the public value of the documents—which Lacaze's attorneys said could help exonerate him—outweigh any privacy interest in the information.
Lacaze was convicted on three counts of first-degree murder in a shooting at a restaurant that killed New Orleans police officer Ronald Williams. Lacaze, who was 18 at the time of the triple-homicide, has been on death row since 1995. He maintains his innocence.
Lacaze and Antoinette Frank, a New Orleans police officer, were arrested hours after the shooting. Frank and Williams, the officer who was killed, worked off-duty security at the restaurant. Prosecutors alleged Frank and Lacaze robbed the restaurant and participated in the shooting.
Lacaze's attorney, Blythe Taplin, is seeking any federal documents about Frank's brother, Adam Frank Jr., who is currently serving time in Louisiana now on an unrelated robbery charge. The request for records includes any communication between state or local officials and the FBI concerning Adam Frank.
In March, the FBI responded to Lacaze's records request by declining to confirm or deny the existence of any documents about Adam Frank.
The government, according to Lacaze's attorneys, also said it would refuse to release any papers without “express authorization and consent of the third party, proof that the subject of your request is deceased, or a clear demonstration that the public interest in disclosure outweighs the personal privacy interest and that significant public benefit would result from the disclosure of the requested records.”
Lacaze's lawyers said in an administrative challenge of the records request denial that the public's "compelling interest in knowing whether the FBI is refusing to disclose information that could help exonerate" a death row inmate are greater than any privacy Adam Frank has in keeping records confidential.
Taplin of the Capital Appeals Project in New Orleans said that prosecutors, at trial, didn't offer up any physical evidence—including the murder weapon—linking Lacaze to the scene of the shooting.
"The jury based its verdict on three questionable identifications and a coerced confession from Mr. Lacaze," the Miller & Chevalier attorneys, including partners Mary Lou Soller and Mark Rochon, said in the suit filed last week in Washington.
Antoinette Frank, the officer, was also convicted at a separate trial. She is on death row in Louisiana.
Three years after Lacaze was convicted, Adam Frank was arrested in Louisiana. "Reports from Mr. Frank’s arrest reveal that he was originally stopped because witnesses had heard him 'bragging about killing a New Orleans Police officer,'" Lacaze's attorneys said in their FOIA suit.
Adam Frank escaped custody but was recaptured a month later, Lacaze's lawyers said in the lawsuit. The authorities recovered a pistol from Adam Frank that matched the caliber and model of the weapon that state prosecutors alleged had been used in the shooting at the New Orleans restaurant.
The serial number on the pistol was partially rubbed off, Lacaze's lawyers said. Part of the serial number matched the number of the murder weapon.
Lacaze has post-conviction proceedings pending in New Orleans state court. In those proceedings, his lawyers argue prosecutors unfairly held onto information that would have aided his defense.