A Louisiana Sheriff’s department has been caught hiding a gun that could free a man from prison and then, to make matters worse, they lied and claimed that evidence had been destroyed during Hurricane Katrina.
Arizona Batiste, a Reserve, Louisiana man, was convicted of the murder of Leonardo Alexander in 1993. Batiste had always maintained that he shot Alexander in self-defense after he pulled a gun on him and left him no choice. On Dec. 20, 1993, the night of the shooting, Batiste found out that Alexander had broken into his house and was selling his belongings on the street.
On Dec. 20, 1993, the night of the shooting, Batiste found out that Alexander had broken into his house and was selling his belongings on the street. Alexander did not take it well when Batiste confronted him. The two men argued and Alexander insisted that Batiste’s mother had given the items to him willingly. Batiste went back to his aunt’s trailer so he could call his mother and verify the story, but Alexander followed him.
Batiste’s cousin Danielle Perriloux to sheriff’s deputies on the night of the shooting that Alexander had “walked in our trailer with a gun.” They two men reportedly ended up in the yard, where Alexander pulled out a gun. Batiste grabbed a shotgun that a friend had been holding and shot Alexander dead.
Batiste then panicked and gave both the shotgun and Alexander’s handgun to a friend, Jerry Lewis, to get rid of. “I didn’t really see what it was,” Lewis told police. “I looked down and I see the gun and I fuckin’ freak and I just drive off.” Lewis eventually tossed the pistol into a canal outside of the city and gave the shotgun to yet another friend, known only as Glenn.
Police had doubted that the second gun even existed from the very beginning and maintained that although they searched for the missing handgun, they never found it, despite calling in divers. They accused the witnesses of lying and eventually pressured them into recanting their statements. According to police documents, Lewis claimed that he was given only the shotgun and no mention was ever made of the pistol being recovered.
But then last fall, Gwyn Brown, Batiste’s appeals attorney, made a public records request and discovered a faxed report that had never introduced at Batiste’s trial. This one piece of paper revealed that police had not only found the gun but that it was a match for Alexander’s gun. It also said that the St. John the Baptist Parish sheriff was holding on to the gun “for safe keeping.”
When Brown asked about the weapon, she found that the gun was still in police custody. She filed an appeal for a new trial and not surprisingly began meeting resistance from the sheriff’s department. The Daily Beast requested documents as well. When they finally received the documents after much resistance, large sections were completely missing, including any mention of the handgun.
The department told the publication that the files had unfortunately been destroyed by flooding during Hurricane Katrina, but St. John the Baptist Parish was hardly touched by the disaster.
In our parish there was no loss of life, no flooding, and no looting,” said the sheriff’s office annual report from 2005 (PDF). “Power outages inconvenienced us all but thankfully damage was mostly limited to roofs. Downed limbs and trees did destroy a few residents’ storage buildings.”
“Our department came through Katrina with very few problems,” the document said.
Allan Wayne Schaeffer, the main detective in Bastiste’s case, has since passed away. However, he was far from an upstanding citizen worthy of trust. He had a habit of using fake names and “was accused of sexual assault and abuse by five different women and pled guilty to lesser charges in 2008.”
Batiste has filed for post-conviction release. Either his attorneys were never told that the gun was recovered or his lawyers never introduced the evidence. Either way, he certainly didn’t get a fair trial. Richard Millet, one of Batiste’s attorneys from the original trial, said during a hearing on May 19 that he “did not know about the existence of a gun, other than the shotgun.”
Featured image via hellinahandbasket.net