A federal judge on Tuesday ordered a new trial for five ex-police officers convicted of killing two unarmed civilians and wounding four others on the Danziger Bridge in New Orleans in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
United States District Judge Kurt Engelhardt said in the 129-page ruling that the case had been marred by "grotesque prosecutorial misconduct," adding that at least three government lawyers had posted comments in a New Orleans news outlet, instigating a "carnival atmosphere" that had tainted the pursuit of justice.
"The public must have absolute trust and confidence in this process," Engelhardt wrote. "Re-trying this case is a very small price to pay in order to protect the validity of the verdict in this case, the institutional integrity of this court, and the criminal justice system as a whole."
Still, Engelhardt understood his ruling was "bitter pill to swallow."
The verdict means former police officers Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon, Anthony Villavaso, and Arthur Kaufman, who had organized a cover-up of the crime while investigating the shooting, will return to court.
All five men were convicted in 2011 for their roles, having pled guilty of being part of a cover-up in which they attempted to make the shootings look justified. Their prison terms range from six to 65 years. The new trial date has not yet been set.
The Department of Justice issued a brief statement, saying, "We are disappointed with the court's ruling. We are reviewing the decision and considering our options."
As NPR reported in 2011, here is what happened that day:
"The short of it is that on Sept. 4, 2005, police were called to the Danziger Bridge, a concrete lift bridge that spans the Industrial Canal. The officers alleged they were being fired upon, so a back-up group headed toward the bridge and ended up shooting and killing two and injuring others.
"The people turned out to be unarmed civilians, and today the officers were found to be guilty on counts ranging from fabrication of witnesses to lying to the FBI to obstruction of justice by planting a firearm."