Sunday, October 14, 2007

48 Hours on 2 of 162

The Hot 8 Brass Band is one of the best of the younger, funkier New Orleans brass bands. The senseless murder of drummer Dinneral Shavers was a tragedy for the NOLA music scene and an even greater loss for his students at the Robouin High School, where Shavers founded the student band. Sadly, he would not live to hear them play the instruments he moved Heaven and Earth to acquire for them. His case and the case of another murdered artist, animated film maker Helen Hill were profiled on CBS’s 48 Hours Mystery last night. Titled “Storm of Murder,” it is worth catching on the web here.

Correspondent Erin Moriarty breaks down the grim facts of NOLA justice:

“The truth is convictions for murder in New Orleans are rare. Just how rare? Dinerral Shavers was one of 162 people murdered in New Orleans in 2006. Police have made arrests in a third of those cases and as of today, there has been one conviction. One conviction. . . .

This year, nearly 3,000 suspects -- ranging from alleged drug dealers to murderers -- were simply released because the district attorney's office failed to bring charges on time. But even when charges are filed, cases often fall apart. What’s the effect? "I think the effect is no one wants to testify because they're afraid that this guy is gonna be out of jail. No one wants to put themselves out there," says [Shavers’ principal Kevin] George.”

Unfortunately 48 Hours did not have the time to fully explain the ins-and-outs of the Louisiana system. By virtue of criminal code #701, the DA has sixty days to file charges, or the accused is cut loose. According to the Pic, there were 187 such releases in 2005 before Katrina hit. In 2006, there were 3,000 so-called 701 releases.

As bad as DA Eddie Jordan (D) looked in “Storm of Murder,” his record is actually even worse. Dealing with this trying situation is an unqualified staff hired by Jordan to replace experienced career employees in the DA’s office. That is the inescapable implication of a jury ruling against Jordan in a racial discrimination suit, which was recently upheld by a federal appeals court.

The closing titles of “Storm of Murder” read:

"There has still been no arrest in the Helen Hill case.
With 162 murders in 2006, the New Orleans District Attorney’s office just announced its 2nd conviction.
The New Orleans murder rate for 2007 remains the highest in the nation."

The police have a suspect for the murder of Shavers, but the handling of the case does not inspire confidence. Helen Hill’s brother Jake, seen in the report handing out reward flyers, seems to be investigating her murder more actively than the NOPD. Compounding the personal tragedy for their friends and family is the great music and film their murderers have denied the world in the future. The Hot 8 are still making music, but they certainly have not forgotten their friend. (They will be in New York for the Lincoln Center Christmas tree lighting on Nov. 26th and you can check out their site here.)