Court Digest

Jury convicts 1 ex-officer, acquits another in 2022 fatal shooting

GRETNA, La. (AP) — A Louisiana jury has convicted one former law enforcement officer and acquitted another in the 2022 shooting death of a man who was sitting in an SUV outside a house reputed for illegal drug activity.

Issac Hughes, who was convicted Friday, and Johnathan Louis, who was acquitted, were Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies when Daniel Vallee, 34, was killed in the New Orleans suburb of Marrero.
Police body camera footage showed that after a 15-minute confrontation, Vallee’s last words to officers were, “Please, put the guns down.”

Hughes and Louis were each indicted on a manslaughter charge with a possible 40-year sentence. Hughes faces up to five years in prison after jurors convicted him on the lesser charge of negligent homicide.

The two were among five deputies responding to a noise complaint in the early hours of Feb. 16, 2022. Sheriff Joe Lopinto said Vallee was in a vehicle outside a suspected drug house and refused to get out when instructed by the deputies, WVUE-TV reported.

Defense attorneys said Hughes and Louis acted in self-defense because Vallee dropped his hands out of sight multiple times, even as officers commanded him to keep them visible. Attorneys said the two officers believed Vallee might “weaponize” his vehicle.

Prosecutors said deputies had opportunities to de-escalate. They said another deputy never fired his weapon but kept it at a “low ready” position, indicating other officers did not perceive an imminent threat.

“The punishment for non-compliance with a law enforcement officer is not death,” Assistant District Attorney Rachel Africk said.

Vallee restarted the SUV’s engine 45 seconds before he was shot, and four deputies drew their weapons, according to The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate. One deputy, who was not charged, yelled at Vallee to turn off the car, and Vallee shouted, “I’m scared. Y’all trying to kill me.”

Vallee dropped his right hand and honked the SUV’s horn and then Hughes, who was standing in front of the vehicle, opened fire and shot all 18 rounds from his gun toward the windshield, according to testimony. Louis was standing at the passenger window and fired nine rounds just after Hughes started shooting.

Vallee was shot eight times and pronounced dead at the scene.

Neither Hughes nor Louis testified during their four-day trial in Gretna.

Prosecutors request 40-year sentence for man who attacked Pelosi’s husband

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to impose a 40-year prison sentence for the man who broke into former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco home seeking to hold her hostage and attacked her husband with a hammer.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported late Friday that prosecutors made the request ahead of a sentencing hearing for David DePape, saying he has not shown remorse for the October 2022 attack.

DePape was convicted last year of attempted kidnapping of a federal official and assault on the immediate family member of a federal official. He is scheduled to be sentenced Friday.

The attack on then-82-year-old Paul Pelosi, which was captured on police body camera video just days before the midterm elections, sent shockwaves through the political world.

DePape admitted during trial testimony that he broke into the Pelosis’ home intending to hold the speaker hostage and “break her kneecaps” if she lied to him. He also admitted to bludgeoning Paul Pelosi with a hammer after police showed up at the home, saying his plan to end what he viewed as government corruption was unraveling.

Defense attorneys said DePape was motivated by his political beliefs and caught up in conspiracy theories.

Nancy Pelosi was not at the home at the time of the attack. Paul Pelosi suffered two wounds on his head, including a skull fracture that was mended with plates and screws he will have for the rest of his life. His right arm and hand were also injured.

Court may reopen window for claims by adult victims of childhood abuse

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana’s Supreme Court agreed Friday to reconsider its recent ruling that wiped out a state law giving adult victims of childhood sexual abuse a renewed opportunity to file damage lawsuits.

The law was passed by the Louisiana Legislature in 2021 and amended in 2022. Sometimes called a “look back” law, it gave victims of past abuse, whose deadlines for filing civil lawsuits had expired, until June 14 of this year to file — a deadline that could be extended until June of 2027 under pending legislation. At the time, its chief sponsor, Rep. Jason Hughes, a New Orleans Democrat, cited research that showed the average age for child sex abuse victims to report the crimes is 52.

In a 4-3 ruling in March, the state’s highest court had said the law conflicted with due process rights in the state constitution. Justices James Genovese, Scott Crichton, Jefferson Hughes and Piper Griffin had been in the majority in March. But in Friday’s order, Crichton and Griffin joined Chief Justice John Weimer and justices Jay McCallum and William Crain in granting a rehearing.

“This was the right decision — as the bill passed unanimously through the State Legislature and should be the law here in Louisiana,” Louisiana Attorney Gen. Liz Murrill said in a news release.

Friday’s decision comes as the Catholic Church continues to deal with the ramifications of a decades-old sex scandal. The ruling that is getting a second look arose from a case filed against the Catholic Diocese of Lafayette by plaintiffs who said they were molested by a priest in the 1970s while they ranged in age from 8 to 14, according to the Supreme Court record.

The rehearing decision follows last week’s revelation that Louisiana State Police carried out a sweeping search warrant in April at the Archdiocese of New Orleans, seeking records and communications between local church leaders and the Vatican about the church’s handling of clergy sexual abuse.

Friday’s order did not set a new court date for arguments on the look back law, but it gave parties until May 20 to file briefs. The new majority didn’t assign reasons for granting a rehearing, although Weimer said the court should have set a hearing for this month.

New Jersey
Woman gets 2 life sentences in 2021 murders of father and his girlfriend

TOMS RIVER, N.J. (AP) — A Pennsylvania woman has been sentenced to two life terms in the shooting and stabbing deaths of her father and his longtime girlfriend 2 1/2 years ago in New Jersey.

Sherry Lee Heffernan, 57, of Landenberg, Pennsylvania was convicted in March of murder and weapons offenses in the deaths of her father, John Enders, 87, and Francoise Pitoy, 75, Enders’ longtime live-in girlfriend. Both were shot and stabbed repeatedly in Enders’ Long Beach Island home in the fall of 2021.

The Asbury Park Press reports that Heffernan stood calmly Friday as an Ocean County judge imposed the pair of consecutive life prison sentences. Superior Court Judge Kimarie Rahill said the crime “was committed with extreme depravity” and ordered her to serve 63 years, nine months without possibility of parole for each murder.

Minutes earlier, Heffernan had sobbed as she professed her innocence and called the victims “priceless people” she would “forever miss.”

“I really wish I was the one who was killed, that I was the one who died,” she said tearfully in a courtroom packed with relatives and friends of both victims. “ ... It’s horrible to lose people you love and then be blamed for it.”

New Jersey authorities alleged that Heffernan was upset with her father because she had been cut out of his will, and she traveled to the home in her recreational vehicle on the night of Sept. 29, 2021.

Michael Weatherstone, chief trial attorney with the county prosecutor’s office, alleged that the defendant stabbed the victims as they slept, shot both not to kill but to inflict more suffering, then put her father in a chair and kept stabbing him while looking him in the eye. Enders was stabbed a total of 51 times and Pitoy 39 times, authorities said.

Prosecutors cited evidence tracking the vehicle and Heffernan’s cellphone along that route and footprints found in the home. Defense attorneys Steven Altman and Phil Nettl argued there was no evidence that Heffernan was in the vehicle.

Man gets 15-year prison sentence for fatal fire

STURGEON BAY, Wis. (AP) — A man convicted of reckless homicide for starting a 2022 fire that killed two people when it destroyed a Wisconsin building housing a bar and rented rooms has been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

A judge also sentenced Anthony Gonzalez, 60, on Friday to 15 years of extended supervision for the fire at Butch’s Bar and the building’s upstairs apartments, the Appleton Post-Crescent reported.

The February 2022 fire killed two tenants who lived above the Sturgeon Bay bar, Victor Jurss and Gary Heise, and seriously injured a third tenant. Gonzalez told investigators he accidentally started the fire in his room above the bar when he was trying to refill a cigarette lighter.

His attorney argued that the building lacked fire safety equipment and said Gonzalez wasn’t reckless because he tried to extinguish the fire and knocked other tenants’ doors to alert them to the fire.

A jury convicted Gonzalez in January of two counts of second-degree reckless homicide and five counts of second-degree recklessly endangering safety. His attorney has said she plans to appeal the verdict.

Door County Judge D. Todd Ehlers said during Friday’s sentencing that Gonzalez has blamed others both for the fire and his convictions and that he has shown a lack of remorse.

Man pleads guilty in theft of bronze Jackie Robinson statue from park

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 45-year-old man has pleaded guilty in the theft of a bronze Jackie Robinson statue that was cut off at the ankles and found days later smoldering in a trash can in a city park in Kansas.

Ricky Alderete entered the plea during his arraignment Thursday. A judge signed off on it Friday.

Authorities arrested him in February, with court records alleging he entered a Wichita home with the intent to kidnap someone as part of an effort to interfere with law enforcement.

He then was charged later that month with felony theft and aggravated criminal damage to property in the statue theft, along with two other counts. Police said there was no evidence it was a hate-motivated crime. Rather, the intent was to sell the metal for scrap, police said.

The bronze statue was cut from its base in January at a park in Wichita, Kansas. Only the statue’s feet were left at McAdams Park, where about 600 children play in a youth baseball league called League 42. It is named after Robinson’ s uniform number with the Brooklyn Dodgers, with whom he broke the major leagues’ color barrier in 1947.

Fire crews found burned remnants of the statue five days later while responding to a trash can fire at another park about 7 miles (11.27 kilometers) away.

Alderete had a criminal record that includes burglary and theft, state correction department records show. His sentencing in the latest case is set for July 1.

Donations poured in after the theft, approaching $300,000, and work is underway to replace it.