by Marion Marks
The death of Caddo Parish District Attorney and former district judge Charles Scott exposed a gaping wound in the legal system managed by the DA’s office. The role of the Caddo Parish DA was filled by former First Assistant Dale Cox, an ex officio prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner of the people. And, on May 29th in Judge John D. Moseley’s courtroom, Cox’s power was challenged and the tide of usurpation met some temporary setback. Former Caddo DA Paul Carmouche placed Cox on the witness stand, tilting the axis of the courtroom and Wonderland.
Only when I read this week’s New Yorker story, again relating Alice in Wonderland as I remembered much of what I learned in school and I saw Caddo Parish as Wonderland. Author Anthony Lane hit a nerve with “conversations about what is real, what is possible, and how rubbery the rules that govern such distinctions…” in Carroll’s tale of reality in a fable. Twins who are both Good and Evil herd Alice in an examination of life and reality, just as court drama drives citizens to examine their reality.
The cases in Caddo Court at this time involve former Fire Chief(Craig Mulford) and notary Ronald W. Norman, a key state witness from a murder case involving a family member of a wealthy Haynesville Shale senior [Summary of the murder case from appeal]. Media attention focused on the original case because it had all the hot items: money, sex, family and enhanced frenzy. But the legal issues of the notary require greater attention because of the way his case was handled and the strategies of the DA’s office. Reality and TV drama seem to mix with fiction, power plays and political aspirations.
On Thursday, May 28th, in the same courtroom, consecutive cases were being tried before Judge Moseley with two defense attorneys, all being prosecuted personally by DA Cox. All are connected to issues of Grand Jury testimony where Cox and his office repeatedly pressed witnesses for enhanced testimony to assist in making cases before the court. On this day before the court, by agreement, District Attorney Cox, always the prosecutor, was to appear as a witness regarding his frame of mind and the chain of events that led to evidence used to indict defendant Norman.
Cox claimed Rule 507, regarding Grand Jury testimony, protected him from disclosing evidence regarding questions and answers before the Grand Jury. Two of the cases before Judge Moseley had defense counsel and former Caddo District Attorney of thirty years, Paul Carmouche who brought motions for the defendants claiming that they not properly advised of their rights by the DA. A point in question, specifically was the possibility of self-incrimination of a witness, and Carmouche alleged that the DA was required to Mirandize any witness when this possibility occurred.
In the State versus Ronald W. Norman, the defendant was charged with two counts of forgery and four of perjury. This case is based on testimony Norman gave before two Grand Juries, starting with the original murder trial, State versus Linda Kate Passaniti. Norman’s testimony assisted the DA’s office in obtaining the original convictions. Defendant were found guilty of second-degree murder and three counts of forgery. Passaniti was the daughter of Loretta Luttrell, who was previously charged in the case. Charges evolved from original cases of acts of conspiracy to control the victim’s money, much of which was derived from a Haynesville Shale windfall. The victim was Ernest Luttrell, and all events of this case received major media attention, because facts revealed money, interstate fraud, forgery and difficult family relationships. Norman’s testimony was critical to demonstrate motives and the chain of events of documents that made the case of the state.
Eight months after the original convictions, according to Cox, his office determined that Norman, over the four plus months of Grand Jury testimonies in the previous trial, as well as the results of a subsequent Grand Jury, was involved in the murder in a criminal manner. He was charged with forgery and perjury. At no time during the trial, however, did Cox state to Norman that Norman lied or was complicit in the murder. Only during the second Grand Jury did the evidence strike Cox that “(Norman) was not guilty when I issued him a target letter.” the significance was that Norman did not require being afforded counsel when he was useful to the State’s case in the first trial.
At the time, eight plus months later, Cox and his assistant, ADA Laura Fulco, informed and charged Norman, even though admitted by all Norman repeated essentially the same story. As defense attorney Carmouche told the court on May 29th:
“Mr. Norman in his testimony before the two Grand Juries and at the trial said many times (84, to be my unofficial count!) at one and many many times during his testimony at the other Grand Jury, and at the trial that he ‘could not remember the details of notarizing the documents in question,‘ but Cox pushed him to answer without an attorney or being advised of his rights and then later indicted Norman for Perjury.”
On Friday the 29th, Cox finally had to account in court, on the witness stand, under oath, as to the facts before Carmouche. Under oath Cox related that Norman probably said 84 times. “I just don’t remember and I told him to say that.” Cox however continued to press Norman, “I told him I wanted his (Norman’s) best memory.” He further stated. “I continued to press.”
Carmouche: “Can you see how another person might think you are trying to set him up for a perjury charge?”
Cox: “Yes, I would think they would think I was being tough on the guy.”
And, allegedly from a grand jury member to Norman, “What you did (Mr. Norman) would lead to the death of another…”
Cox: “It made the murder possible.” Cox went on (paraphrase) to say, “… to the effect, we didn’t think it had anything to do with the actual death.”
The Grand Jury member supposedly went on to say: “When you are doing your job as a notary you make it possible for these crimes to be possible.”
Cox: “What you (Norman) did may have signed this man’s life away.”
Carmouche to Cox: “You are part of this (Mr Cox), You are part of this and you needed to say ‘STOP!’ You need a lawyer.”
Cox: “Norman was not part of murder or conspiracy to commit murder.”
Carmouche: “You (Cox) said in 2012 to the Norman in front of the Grand Jury that Norman could be sent to jail for ten years.”
At this point Judge Moseley halted the questions for a sidebar. And the implication that Norman was never advised of his rights before or during the trial over which Moseley presided became quite evident to Judge Moseley. And at this point, after a brief recess, Judge Moseley recused himself as also having to be a witness in the failures of the DA’s office.
Here is where the public needs to appreciate what seems to be the Investigation, Prosecution, Judge, Jury and Executioner role the district attorney’s office has taken in cases they chose to accept. Certainly the issues are far more difficult and complex than I understand. However, attorneys have explained to me the severity of the allegations against the DA’s office. Now I can only hope that a DA who makes claims of “We need to kill more people,” to ensure justice is meted out, will be required to stand and be judged equally.
I can only hope these facts will be discussed and better explained than I have attempted, because it is more than troubling to someone who spends much time with evidence and words used to address evidence. It’s so troubling that serious journalists and specialists from outside of Shreveport have come in to assist in the investigation of facts. Words and actions in these serious prosecutions require the public and voters to understand those we elect in the judicial process and how their work affects all of us.
Here we must question the reality of living under the Caddo judicial system if all citizens are not afforded the same rights. And, if respect for these rights balances on the slim hope that a district attorney will not determine, like the evil queen that we no longer serve of any value to the state. It is simply a matter of “Off with his head!”
As Lewis Carroll’s Alice is confronted by Tweedledee & Tweedledum who challenge her very existence:
“You know very well you’re not real.”
“I am real!” said Alice, and began to cry.
“You won’t make yourself a bit realler by crying,”
Tweedledee remarked: “there’s nothing to cry about.”
“If I wasn’t real,” Alice said—half laughing through her tears, it all seemed so ridiculous—“I shouldn’t be able to cry.”
“I hope you don’t suppose those are real tears?” Tweedledum interrupted in a tone of great contempt.
We in Caddo, and all who see our plight will cry real tears because this apparent travesty is alive and well and it flourishes with our encouragement. Justice can never rely on simply a wish or prayer. Each of us must be vigilant instruments for justice to occasionally prevail. As David Mamet(Faustus) wrote, “Many remark justice is blind; pity those in her sway, shocked to discover she is also deaf.”
*Marion Marks is neither an attorney, nor has he worked personally on any of the cases mentioned. He does forensic work which has appeared in many Caddo Parish cases retained and represented by both the Caddo DA’s office and private defense attorneys.