Calvin King was convicted of second-degree murder and armed robbery, in connection with the November 2007 death of a Metairie cocaine dealer.
Jefferson Parish prosecutors brought Calvin King to trial three times before they were able to convict him in the abduction and robbery of a Metairie cocaine dealer six years ago. The first two ended in mistrials, both triggered by the same Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office detective whose missteps on the witness stand poisoned those juries. A third jury found King guilty in February.
Now it appears the prosecutors will have to bring him to trial a fourth time.
Judge Robert Pitre of the 24th Judicial District Court on Friday tossed out King's conviction, awarding the man a new trial on charges of second-degree murder and armed robbery. King is accused in the Nov. 2, 2007, death of Javier Sanchez, 26, a Mexican immigrant in the country illegally, who authorities said sold large quantities of cocaine from his Clearview Parkway apartment.
King and Willie Gross, 45, of Baton Rouge, were two of three men who went to Sanchez's apartment intent on stealing cash and the 2 kilograms of cocaine they believed were there, authorities have said. They arrived to find Sanchez's girlfriend home alone, so they used duct tape to secure her to her bed while they searched the apartment. The Sheriff's Office lifted King's and Gross' finger prints from the duct tape roll, proving, they say, that the duo was in the apartment.
Sanchez arrived home amid the search, and he was driven away with the men. A passer-by found his body hours later on the shoulder Interstate 510 in eastern New Orleans. He had been shot.
King's attorney Jim Williams argued for a new trial Friday, largely on procedural grounds tied to the testimony of Sanchez's girlfriend, Maria Albreu, a native of Costa Rica, and how prosecutors used conflicting evidence in King's and Gross' trials. Her testimony played a key role in the prosecution. Williams argued her testimony was unreliable, but the jury believed her.
"We all know a grand jury can indict a ham sandwich," Williams said in borrowing a quote from author Tom Wolfe. "But a Jefferson Parish jury can convict a ham sandwich."
Pitre agreed with Williams' assessment of Abreu's credibility, saying he didn't believe the witness's testimony. Abreu only witnessed the armed robbery, and prosecutors have no witnesses who saw the homicide, Williams said.
Pitre "had a right and a duty" to award King a new trial, Williams said. "And that's what he did."
Assistant District Attorney Ernie Chen will ask the state 5th Circuit Court of Appeal to overturn Pitre and reinstate the conviction.
Pitre, a veteran jurist who has said he will not seek re-election when his term ends next year, is the same judge who tossed out the conviction of Ciara Craig, who was convicted of drowning her newborn in Lake Pontchartrain in Kenner in 2009. Craig has since pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
Williams said Pitre has expressed willingness to let King out of jail on a $100,000 bond pending the outcome of his case, if the commercial bail bond company agrees. Pitre reduced the bond after one of the previous mistrials.
Gross, meanwhile, has been convicted of second-degree murder in Sanchez's death. Pitre, who presided over that case, too, handed down the mandatory life sentence in prison.
In his confession, Gross admitted he and King went to Sanchez's apartment to purchase drugs, something they had done previously. Sanchez was not home, and so Abreu provided the drugs, Gross testified. He claimed Abreu cheated them, and so when they searched the apartment for the drugs, they used the duct tape to secure her. That, Gross said, is why their prints were found on the tape.
However, Gross said that when Sanchez returned to the apartment, they settled their differences. They left, and Sanchez was alive, Gross told detectives.
During his trial, Gross testified that detectives forced the confession by threatening to kill him. King did not give detectives a statement.
King is no stranger to the criminal justice system. He has served prison time for convictions in New Orleans of attempted manslaughter and attempted aggravated arson. He's also served probation time for pleading guilty to narcotics and firearms charges, also in New Orleans.