Assistant D.A. Accused of Planting Evidence in Cop's Rape Case
By Seamus McGraw
Oct. 26, 2000

NEW ORLEANS (APB) -- A judge ordered a mistrial in the case of a police officer accused of rape and sentenced the assistant district attorney on the case to jail for allegedly tampering with evidence. 

"I draw no pleasure in reaching this decision," Criminal Court Judge Arthur Hunter said Wednesday as he slapped Assistant District Attorney Lionel Lon Burns with a six-month jail sentence. "Each of us within the criminal justice system have the duty not only to administer justice but to follow the law and demonstrate to society defendants will receive a fair trial and victims will secure justice." 

The sentence is the stiffest allowed under Louisiana law. Burns was freed hours later pending an appeal, court officials said. 

Second trial for officer
The judge's dramatic move came at the start of the second trial of George Lee III, a city police officer accused of raping five women, among them prostitutes, after threatening to arrest them. In April, Hunter declared a mistrial in the case after prosecutors allegedly failed to provide defense attorneys with transcripts of a statement by a witness who claimed that sex with at least one of the alleged victims was consensual, court records show. A separate trial in January on charges that Lee allegedly kidnapped and sexually battered one of the five victims ended in a hung jury. 

Questionable napkins 
The trial had just begun Monday, according to court documents, when Burns produced a wad of paper napkins that he claimed Lee had used to tidy himself up after allegedly attacking one of the victims. Burns claimed that he found the napkins in the pocket of Lee's trousers while preparing last week for the new trial, court records show. But defense attorneys demanded a mistrial, arguing they had been blindsided by the revelation, and accused Burns of planting the new evidence. 

On Wednesday, out of earshot of the jury, the judge agreed. 'Implausible and improbable' In a six-page decision, Hunter described Burn's claims that he had suddenly discovered the napkins last week as "implausible and improbable." The judge noted that neither the police officer who had initially seized the trousers as evidence nor the evidence clerk who logged them in ever noticed the napkins that Burns claimed had been in the pocket all along. Hunter also noted that two of Burn's fellow prosecutors who had helped him prepare for the case had been unaware of the napkins until they were suddenly produced in the second day of the case. 

"Assistant District Attorney Tony Rovello testified he was responsible for tracking the evidence, and specifically remembered examining the defendant's uniform and other clothing ... and did not find the thick wad of napkins," Hunter wrote. 

Assistant District Attorney Zaren James also denied any knowledge of the napkins, Hunter wrote. Only Assistant District Attorney Keeva Landrum knew anything about the new evidence, the judge wrote. She told the court that Burns had told her about them, but that she had never seen them. 

Constructive contempt 
The judge then ordered a mistrial and cited Burns for constructive contempt, described under Louisiana law as "an act ... tending to obstruct or interfere with the orderly administrative of justice." 

It was not immediately clear whether prosecutors would seek to try Lee a third time. The judge's order barred prosecutors and defense attorneys from discussing the case with the media. 


 
 
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