Friday, April 8, 2011

Defense Rests in Trial of Police Accused of Killing of Raymond Robair

Lawyers for the two officers accused in the beating death of Raymond Robair, a 48-year-old handyman from the Treme neighborhood, rested their case today. It's expected that on Monday jurors will hear two rebuttal witnesses called by prosecution, as well as closing arguments.

Although Robair's death happened a few months before Hurricane Katrina, the case is often discussed in the context of the post-Katrina killings of Henry Glover, Danny Brumfield, Sr, and the civilians shot on Danziger Bridge. It's likely that if the police violence that occurred in the aftermath of the hurricane had not attracted federal attention, federal investigators would not have re-opened the Robair case.

However, observers speculate that prosecutors may have a harder time with the Robair case than with the Glover or Danziger prosecutions. One major advantage for prosecutors in the other cases is the testimony of officers who have agreed to speak out in exchange for lesser charges. In the Robair case, it is the testimony of officer against civilian (including health care workers from Charity Hospital), and two pathologists working for the defense against one pathologist testifying for the state. In general, jurors are known to take the word of officers as more trustworthy than civilian eyewitnesses. While jurors in Orleans Parish have shown more skepticism towards police testimony, this is a federal case, meaning the jury is drawn largely from the surrounding Parishes, making it both whiter and likely more conservative.

In the courtroom, family members of Raymond Robair have sat in the front row, quietly absorbing the trial. They have been joined by activists from Safe Streets Strong Communities and other observers. Several community members in the courtroom have voiced complaints over the behavior of one of the officers, Melvin Williams, an 18-year veteran of the force who is known on the street as "Flat-Top." His longtime partner, who is known among neighborhood residents "ponytail," also gave a brief testimony at the trial. However, during the death of Robair, ponytail was on vacation, and Williams was paired with Dean Moore, a new officer.

Witnesses say Williams was one who beat Robair to death, while Moore, a former semi-professional hockey player from Canada, is accused of helping in the cover-up.

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