NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Three years ago, a jury heard lurid testimony about a burned body and a brazen cover-up before convicting a former New Orleans police officer of fatally shooting a man without justification in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
But the officer, David Warren, was acquitted of the same charges Wednesday by a different panel of jurors who didn’t hear any talk about what happened to 31-year-old Henry Glover’s body or about falsified police reports on his shooting outside a strip mall less than a week after the 2005 storm.
Warren, 50, was serving a prison sentence of nearly 26 years when a federal appeals court threw out his 2010 convictions last year and ordered him a new trial. A three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Warren should have been tried separately from four other former officers who were charged in the alleged cover-up.
After the jury in his retrial delivered its verdict and he was reunited with his wife and five children, Warren told reporters he believes the outcome of the first trial would have been different if another officer hadn’t burned Glover’s body in a car.
“I took the action that I had to take. We have spent years talking about something that lasted seconds,” he said. “I do not have regrets. Unfortunately, in this situation I felt that I acted properly. I still feel that I acted properly — and that I stand by.”
The 5th Circuit panel had agreed with Warren’s lawyers that the “spillover effect” of evidence about the cover-up, including photos of Glover’s charred remains, denied him a fair trial.
Dane Ciolino, a law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, said prosecutors faced the difficult burden of having to prove that Warren “willfully” took the life of a man he never met before the deadly encounter.
“This came as absolutely no surprise to me,” Ciolino said of Warren’s acquittal. “Once you take away the burned body and the cover-up, it then just boils down to whether it was a bad shoot.”
Warren spent more than three years behind bars after he was charged in Glover’s death. His trembling relatives wept and embraced each other after the verdict, which jurors delivered less than two hours after they informed a judge they were struggling to reach a unanimous decision. All together, they deliberated for 12 hours over two days.
“Oh my gosh, I can’t even get it in my head,” his wife, Kathy Warren, told a supporter. Her husband had been in custody since June 2010, when he surrendered to authorities following his indictment.
On the other side of the courtroom, Glover’s sister, Patrice Glover, slumped over and wailed so loudly that U.S. District Judge Lance Africk paused as he spoke to jurors. After a man carried Patrice Glover out of the room, several jurors wiped away tears as they filed out.
Friends and relatives tried to console Patrice Glover as she sat in a chair in the lobby of the courthouse.
“He was a good child,” she said of her brother. “That was my baby.”
U.S. Attorney Kenneth Allen Polite Jr. said in a statement that prosecutors were disappointed by the verdict but thanked jurors for their “attentive service.”
His predecessor, Jim Letten, said after the 2010 verdict that it marked a “critical phase in the recovery and healing of this city, of the people of this region.”
The jury for Warren’s first trial also convicted two other former officers of charges stemming from Glover’s death. Gregory McRae was convicted of burning Glover’s body. The 5th Circuit upheld McRae’s convictions. Travis McCabe was convicted of writing a false report on the shooting, but Africk ordered him a new trial based on evidence that surfaced after his conviction.
The jury at the first trial also acquitted two other former officers of charges related to the alleged cover-up.
On Monday, Warren testified that he feared for his life when he shot Glover because he thought he saw a gun in Glover’s hand as Glover and another man ran toward the building Warren was guarding. Prosecutors, however, said Glover wasn’t armed and didn’t pose a threat.
Defense attorney Richard Simmons said the case was always about “a policeman’s worst nightmare, that split-second decision.”
“The benefit of the doubt has to go to the officer,” Simmons said.
Warren and another officer, Linda Howard, were guarding a police substation at the strip mall on the morning of Sept. 2, 2005, when Glover and another man pulled up in a truck. Warren said he screamed, “Police, get back!” twice after Glover and his friend, Bernard Calloway, exited the truck and started to run toward a gate that would have given them access to the building he was guarding.
Calloway, however, testified that Glover was standing next to the truck and lighting a cigarette when Warren shot him. Howard testified Glover and Calloway were running in different directions when Warren opened fire.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracey Knight said Howard didn’t view Glover as a threat and was horrified by Warren’s actions and his nonchalant response to the shooting.
Jurors also heard testimony from a former officer, Alec Brown, who said Warren told him shortly after the shooting that he believed looters were “animals” who deserved to be shot. Warren denied saying that.
Earlier on the same morning as Glover’s shooting, Warren had fired what he called a warning shot at a man who had been riding a bike near the mall. Warren said he knew officers are not allowed to fire warning shots, but was worried the man intended to do “something stupid” because he had circled the mall several times.
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